2011 MLB Team Preview: Oakland Athletics 2011 MLB Team Preview: Oakland Athletics 2011 MLB Team Preview: Oakland Athletics
 

2011 MLB Team Preview: Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics (A’s) biggest headline last season was when New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez took a jog over the pitching mound at The Coliseum on his way back to the visitor’s dugout, and SP Dallas Braden through a temper tantrum.

The A’s finished up the 2010 season at 81-81, a vast improvement from seasons prior but finishing second in the AL West was not as much earned, as it was lost when the Angels got injured.

So, where does that leave the A’s heading into 2011, let’s take a look.

The Positives:

Pitching, pitching and more pitching as the A’s have possibly the most talented group of youngsters across baseball. Finishing with a 3.56 ERA, an AL best and making 103 Quality Starts, which was the most in baseball in 2010.

This season the A’s are banking on the continued maturity of the righty Trevor Cahill, who is now 23-years old and in 2010 was one of the best pitchers in the AL. Cahill won 18 games, posting a 2.97 ERA over 30 starts. The rotation will be led by Cahill, who went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA and was named to the All-Star Team in 2010.

Then there is 25-year-old, lefty Gio Gonzalez also made strides in 2010, posting a 15-9 record, with a 3.23 ERA but the 92 walks needs to improve. Gonzalez needs to learn when to throw what pitch, as well as get better control to lower the amount of walks.

The A’s most promising rookie is 22-year-old, lefty Brett Anderson, who has a 95+ fastball and has command well beyond his years. Anderson pounds the plate and throws for strikes, featuring a slider, change-up and curveball. In 2010 Anderson was sidelined twice with elbow soreness, which limited him to 19 starts. This kid has the biggest future, if he keeps maturing like this.

The third lefty, Braden, the newly acquired Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden will fill the back-end spots. Harden is not unfamiliar with the A’s, as his last stint with Oakland dates back to 2008, where he made 13 starts, posting a 2.34 ERA, with a record of 5-1,

This is a very talented and young rotation, which is clearly the strength of this A’s ball-club.

There are not many teams featuring three lefty arms on the brink of becoming top of the rotation pitchers. I still think the A’s staff is working out their kinks and figuring out how to be the most effective on the mound.

This is not a “will it happen” situation, but a “when it happens.”

The Negatives:

The great pitching happens to be paired with one of the worst line-ups in baseball.

The A’s management seems so occupied with getting a new stadium built that they made no significant moves in the off-season that will bring a consistent pop to the batting order.

They traded away the speed of Rajai Davis to the Blue Jays for two prospect relievers. Davis stole 41+ bases in each of the last two seasons.

They picked up injured Nationals Josh Willington for two young prospects. In 2010 Willington played in 114 games, posting a .268 batting average, hitting 16 home runs, 56 RBI’s, and had eight stolen bases. He missed the last six weeks with a knee injury, but has played without any problems this spring and is hoping to put up some numbers in Oakland. Just have to wait and see.

Another pick-up the injured outfielder David DeJesus who only contributed in 91 games last year with the Royals. They also snagged the aging great Hideki Matsui as the team’s DH, which is worrisome considering Matsui’s age, injury history and the expectations the A’s are hoping Matsui can bring.

These are slight upgrades but to count on everyone having to have career seasons, with this group’s injury history is highly unlikely. The A’s gave away their biggest base stealing threat in the process, as Davis was a consistent and sure thing threat.

Players To Watch:

DH Hideki Matsui is one of the most disciplined hitters ever to play the game. Matsui will without question become a role model, as just watching his patience at the plate has been known to infect whatever clubhouse he joins. Matsui defines what every hitter dreams of becoming. Whether Matsui can provide the A’s with the pop they so desperately long for remains to be seen, but if Godzilla finds his groove watch-out.  Matsui is almost 38-years-old but a player with his history and accomplishments could very well have some end of career surge at the plate. In 2010 Matsui hit 21 homers, drove in 84 RBIs and posted a .274 batting average for the Angels. The A’s would be over-the-moon if he could do this for one more season. I would not give up on him just yet.

2011 NL Central Prediction:

The Oakland A’s had some help last season to finish second behind the Rangers, as the Angels succumbed to injuries early. Still, winning more then 81 games is going to be tougher to achieve against the Rangers and Angels. Overall, too much has to happen for too many players to be able to compete.

The young, talented pitching staff will still have growing pains in 2011 and with zero pop in their batting line-up that would help balance  out the learning curve.

I think the A’s will win right around the same number of games from 2010, give or take a one or two. The A’s will finish third in the AL West, and my bet is they will be in contention in 2012 or 2013, as that seems more realistic.

The Oakland A’s is still one or two power bats short of being a postseason team. Unfortunately there will be no October baseball in Oakland, just yet.