Handicapping the Oakland A's Fast Start
by Trevor Whenham - 4/17/2013
Last year the A’s were at least tied with the Orioles for the title of the biggest surprise in baseball. No one other than the most loyal season ticket holders expected anything from the squad. Yet when the dust settled they had won the very tough AL West with a payroll a fraction of the size of their opponents.
This year the division only got stronger, so it seemed obvious to question whether the team’s season last year was a fluke or if it could be sustained. It’s too early to really decide anything, but so far things are looking very positive. At 11-4 they have two more wins than any other squad in the American League, and they have a 1.5 game lead on the Rangers and at least five games on the rest of the division. At 6-0 they are the only team other than the Braves to be undefeated on the road as well. Very impressive. But is it for real? Let’s take a look:
The biggest key to success so far has been the uncanny ability this team has had for scoring runs so far. They are averaging just short of six runs per game and have scored 15 more runs than any other AL squad and more than every team in baseball. What’s interesting about the offensive output is that they don’t have guys putting up truly ridiculous numbers — it’s a balanced attack. Jed Lowrie leads the way. But while his .357 batting average and 12 runs batted in are more than solid, they aren’t among the league leaders. It’s a balanced attack, and it’s happening despite less-than-optimal output form Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Young and Josh Reddick. It’s not likely that the team will continue to run away from the pack offensively — they were outscored by seven AL squads last year. Their balance and lack of truly gaudy numbers, though, makes it as likely that they won’t have a total collapse, either.
The rotation doesn’t provide a whole lot of reasons for optimism, unfortunately. A.J. Griffin has been the best starter so far. However, with only 17 career starts, it is hard to trust him going forward. Tommy Milone has a nice 3-0 record, but his numbers are far from spectacular. Brett Anderson hasn’t been good enough. Jarrod Parker is supposed to be a budding young star, but he was terrible in Spring Training, and he has been even worse since the games have started to matter. He has a 10.80 ERA through three starts, and opponents have a .426 batting average against him. Ugly. Bartolo Colon hasn’t been very sharp, either. But who really expected him to be? This rotation has been good enough to get them this far, but it won’t be good enough to take them much further if they don’t improve significantly.
Adequate would be a good word to describe my opinion of this bullpen heading into the season. They have been better than that so far. The bullpen has provided only two saves — both from Grant Balfour. The 35-year-old Aussie isn’t a true closer in the dominating sense of the word, but he had 24 saves in 26 tries last year, so he is a reasonably acceptable option to close out games. Beyond that the bullpen has eaten innings and has looked pretty solid doing it. With the slight exception of Pat Neshek, the bullpen has probably performed better than it can reasonably be expected to going forward. That bullpen has carried the weight, made up for the rotation’s woes, and helped the team get to where they are now. If they come back to earth slightly — which they almost certainly will — and the rotation doesn’t step up, the team will have some issues.
They have won three games in Anaheim — a big series win that could prove to be important later on. They get a lot of credit for that. The rest of the schedule is not nearly as impressive, though. They played the Tigers and lost two of three. Aside from that, they have played five against the historically pathetic Astros and four against Seattle (only winning two). Things get harder going forward — trips to Tampa Bay and Boston, at home against the O’s and Angels, then on the road in New York and Cleveland. The schedule hasn’t been weak enough that they don’t get any credit at all for what they have accomplished. They have yet to win enough games against good teams to prove that they are for real, though. If they are still leading their division a month from now, it will really be time to take this team seriously. Until then patience and cautious skepticism are what is called for.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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