Here in my hometown of Baltimore, the Oakland A's are in town and there was little reason to suspect that it would be the contending Oakland A's when the schedule was first released. Yet that's exactly what Oakland is, with last night's win moving them to 24-23, just two games back of AL West-leading Texas. Let's see if expecting them to keep in it the rest of the way is feasible.
Like the proto-type Oakland playoff teams at the turn of the 21st century, the 2010 model is built on pitching. The A's rank 4th in the American League in ERA and are even better when it comes to keeping runners off base. Dallas Braden's perfect game against the Rays is the showcase moment, but the A's are getting quality starting pitching Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill. They've got Brett Anderson back and he's given them four strong starts. But the loss of Justin Duscherer to
a season-ending hip injury, after he was sitting on a 2.35 ERA after his first five starts, is a heavy, heavy blow. The starting rotation is still decidedly a strength, but other areas of the team will have to pick up. While the bullpen is good, it's not deep, and that could wear on this team through the long summer months. One thing that could help is if Ben Sheets starts to pitch better and stays healthy. His history suggests he'll do the former, but not the latter. I would anticipate that after 3-4 good starts in a row, something will put him on the disabled list.
It's the offense that really has to step it up. The rank ninth in runs scored right now, but the lack of power is striking. Using a .450 slugging percentage is the baseline of being a legitimate threat to either hit it out or hit the alleys consistently, Oakland has not a single power threat in its lineup. Only first baseman Daric Barton and rightfielder Ryan Sweeney get on base
with any regularity. It's frankly amazing the A's have gotten themselves up to #9 in runs scored with the holes in this offense. Two-thirds of the lineup is below a .300 OBP, an absolutely awful statistic.
While the prospects of improving the attack internally exist, it requires a big leap of faith. Jack Cust could fulfill even a fraction of the potential he had a few years ago. When Coco Crisp comes off the DL in June, he could return to being the 2005 version, circa Cleveland, that could hit for a good average with some respectable power. As I said, some big leaps of faith are required to see any more runs being scored in Oakland. It's for that reason I see the A's gradually fading. The pitching, and the fact there's no clear power in their division, will let them hang around. But the poor offense, the loss of Duscherer and the unlikelihood of a midseason upgrade mean that the A's will be hard-pressed to hold off the Angels, much less overtake
Today the All-Star procession looks at American League catchers, the most anti-climatic election since LBJ beat Goldwater in 1964. Joe Mauer is the man and no one else is close. Mauer routinely turns out OBP's in excess of .400 and has been known to pursue batting averages in that lofty neighborhood too. Last year he really upped his power and it made him an MVP. 2010 has been more of the same. When you combine that with a very weak field of competition, you have the elements for a landslide.
Victor Martinez leads up the list of disappointments in Boston. He is starting to hit of late, but his overall production is still down substantially across the board. A.J. Pierzynski was always somewhat overrated in Chicago, but even given that, his poor bat is still cause for alarm. Kurt Suzuki in Oakland isn't bad, but given that we just reviewed a shaky A's offense and he wasn't in the mix as a contributor tells us all
we need to know.
Some kudos must go to John Buck (Toronto), Mike Napoli (LAA) and Jason Kendall (KC), who are each good in one area. Buck & Napoli have some very nice power numbers, and Kendall is enjoying a little bit of an offensive resurgence in his career with a .350 OBP. But if there was to be a challenger to Mauer, it can't come from one man alone. Only the combined efforts of Yankee catchers can get in the neighborhood of the reigning MVP. Whether it's Posada or Cervelli, their backstop gets on base and hits for power. It speaks volumes to Mauer's dominance, that this is the closest challenge we can muster to his All-Star spot.
For tomorrow, our stop will be in Toronto and our All-Star review will go to the DH spot.