From a fan's perspective, this year's A's team has been both fascinating and frustrating. They've had lots of come from behind victories (good) and come from ahead losses (bad). There have been a bunch of injuries (bad) but bench players and minor league call-ups have picked up the slack (good). In keeping with that 50/50 spirit, here are four good things and four bad things about the 2007 Oakland Athletics.
Four Good Things:
Travis Buck - T. Buck should be a candidate for AL Rookie of the Year, Dice-K nonwithstanding. He made the jump from AA to the majors this year, and stepped straight into the starting lineup when Milton Bradley got injured. He beat the Yankees with a triple and Red Sox with a HR in the same week. His playing time will probably scale back now that Milton is back, but Travis is the real deal.
Jack Cust - Picking up Custy was the steal of the year for the A's. They got him from the Padres for next to nothing, and he's hit 8 home runs in May. His 3-run walk-off against the Indians a few weeks ago inspired this bit of bad poetry. Custy's probably going to cool down over the rest of the year and won't reach the 48HR he's projected to hit, but he gets on base and hits
for power (both Moneyball upsides), so he'll be in the lineup for awhile. (I don't think "Custy" is Jack's real nickname - it's just one I made up for him after that Cleveland game!)
Dan Haren - Haren has been the best pitcher in baseball this year (6-2 with an eye-popping 1.64 ERA). He deserves to be the AL starter in the All-Star Game. As an A's fan, I've learned not to grow too attached to favorite players (Tejada, Zito) because all the good ones end up on other teams when they become free agents, but I've become a big fan of Danny Haren over the past few years, and will be sad when he takes his big free agent contract on another team.
Dan Johnson - aka "the other Dan". One of my biggest regrets about posting that "Custy at the Bat" poem (other than, you know, writing it) was that the rhyme scheme mandating labelling DJ as "cake". He's been anything but cake this year. He's hitting over .300 with power and playing great defense at first base. The poem would've worked better if Jason Kendall (who is a cake) had been on base before Custy hit that HR.
Four Bad Things:
Eric Chavez - Chavvy has has suffered from triceps tendinitis over the past two years, which has really hurt his productivity at the plate. He's currently hitting .228, and has been the A's least valuable player by WPA. At least he's been able to stay in the lineup, and is still the best defensive third basemen in the game. Hopefully he'll pick things up soon.
Jason Kendall - Kendall has never been a world-beater at the plate, but this year he's become pathetic, hitting under .200 with only three more extra base hits than me. He was a career .300 hitter before this year, so there's hope that he'll start picking it up like Chavvy, but I'm starting to worry that he's losing it.
Mike Piazza - In an ideal lineup, Piazza would be able to pull his catching gear out of storage and send Kendall to the bench, but he sprained his shoulder in early May, and a 38-year old catcher with a bum shoulder is probably going to be platooning DH with Jack Cust after he gets healthy. The A's acquired Piazza to replace Frank Thomas as their "veteran leader", which he wasn't very good at even before he got hurt. Picking up old players from other teams should be left to Brian Sabean and the Giants do. At they didn't overpay for him.
Those Damn Injuries - The A's could field a pretty decent team made up entirely of players who have spent time on the DL this year: two of their best starting pitchers (Rich Harden and Esteban Loaiza), their closer (Huston Street) and setup man(Justin Duscherer), many outfielders (Milton Bradley, Mark Kotsay, Bobby Kielty) and their DH (Mike Piazza) have been on the shelf for most of the season. This has let Buck and Cust and others show what they're made of, and it's a wonder they're doing as good as they are, but it's been tough, especially on their pitching.
And now it's time for the Summer surge! The A's have always been slow starters during the Billy Beane era, but usually pick it up after Memorial Day. It's like they treat the first two months of the regular season like an extended Spring training. They're currently 5.5 games behind the Angels, but I'm expecting the AL West race to tighten up over the summer and be a dogfight to the finish. Things will probably go more or less how Melissa Lockard predicted they would back in March in this pre-season preview at Deadspin.com.
The team will stink at the start of the season, and by mid-May, everyone (including myself, probably, as I never learn) will declare the team dead. Then the A's will rattle off 30 wins in a 40-game period and suddenly by the All-Star Break, they will have the division lead in their sights. After the break, the A's will either make a trade no one was expecting or they will welcome back one of their injured players. Said roster change will be the catalyst for a torrid August, during which time, they will take control of the division.I'm pretty confident this is the way things will go down, but what happens after August is still unknown. The A's will either keep it together in September and win the division (as they did in 2000-2003 and last year) or fold at the end like they did in 2004-2005. But in either case, it should be an exciting summer for baseball in Oaktown.
On the other side of the bay, the SF Giants are also hovering around .500. They're a .500 team that should stay at that level throughout the season, but they're in a weak division so who knows? Barry Bonds will break Aaron's record in early July, probably against the Cardinals, hitting one over the McGwire monument in center field after LaRussa decides not to walk him with first base open.
And on the other side of the country, as I suspected, the NY Yankees are not very good. The NY Mets are pretty good though, and so are the Red Sox, so there could be (heaven help us!) a rematch of the 1986 World Series. And if there is, don't forget where you heard it first!