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Oakland Athletics Opening Day Primer

2011 Record: 74-88 Manager: Bob Melvin

The Athletics are embarking on yet another rebuilding job on-the-fly. The A’s were hoping to be a surprise contender last season with a good, young starting staff high in potential, but that staff was beset by injuries and never realized their potential. With the Angels and Rangers gearing up for a huge showdown in the AL West, GM Billy Beane has recalibrated the A’s roster with an eye on hitting the ground running in 2013.

Player in the spotlight: Yoenis Cespedes CF

The A’s uncharacteristically broke the bank in signing Cuban defector Cespedes in the winter to a 4-year, $36M contract. Cespedes brings some big power to the table and has good speed. He stands to be a major contributor and all-star candidate for years to come. He’ll be the key to a rejuvenated lineup that Beane hopes will be ready to compete next season.

Biggest question mark in the lineup: Manny Ramirez DH/Flake

Manny’s back and he’ll join the A’s after sitting out 50 games after getting his 100 game suspension shortened. Who knows what Manny has left, but the A’s are a perfect last chance for his career and if he proves that he can still hit well, then Beane might be able to swing him for a borderline prospect at the trade deadline.  Otherwise, Ramirez will just get in the way of the development of the A’s younger players who need major league at bats.

Pitcher in the spotlight: Brandon McCarthy

McCarthy enters 2012 as the ace of a depleted starting staff that consists of retreads and prospects. McCarthy was able to rejuvenate his career last season after not pitching in the big leagues since 2009. The A’s need McCarthy to make his starts consistently and hold down the fort until Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden comes back. McCarthy will be a free agent at the end of the season so that means that he could be moved somewhere to help this team retool for 2013.

Biggest pitching question mark: Tom Milone

Milone came over from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez deal where he won 12 games in each of the past 3 minor league seasons. Milone also added another win in his decent September call up last year. His development is in the spotlight because he might be the only starter among the current staff that will be around when they’re ready to compete for the AL West title next year or 2014.

Prospect with a chance to make an impact this year: Jarrod Parker SP

Parker was the key piece of the Trevor Cahill deal with the Diamondbacks in the winter. Parker was the D’backs top prospect before the trade. The A’s should have Parker in the rotation by midseason at the latest. .

Prediction: 3rd in AL West

This is an intriguing group of players that Beane has assembled. They’re not built to win this year, but who knows?  Beane has put together overachieving rosters before. But if all goes as planned, this team should get Braden and Anderson back and develop a couple more starters while getting their young lineup experience for next year. Then they should be looking at an 85 win team going into next season with the potential for more if things go well. This year, .500 is a more realistic goal.

MLB Daily Balk Morning Rundown 4/22

The Marlins are pulling out all the stops to draw fans

Best of Yesterday April 21

Last year’s NL MVP Joey Votto hit his third homer of the season in the Reds 7-4 win over the Diamondbacks on Thursday afternoon. Votto’s blast was 406 feet officially, but looked longer and he’s now hitting .418 on the season.

Kyle Lohse threw a two hit shutout for the Cardinals against the Nationals in the final game of their 3-game series on Thursday afternoon. Lohse struck out 6 and only gave up 2 hits and 2 walks. Lohse is now 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA on the season for the Cardinals, who are tied with the Reds at 10-9 for first place in the NL Central.

Matt Kemp hit another walkoff homer for the Dodgers, his second one in a week. This time, Kemp victimized the Braves who had taken the lead in the 9th after Dodgers manager Don Mattingly left starter Clayton Kershaw in the game instead of turning to closer Jonathan Broxton with the bases loaded and two outs. Mattingly got lucky this time, but either the Dodgers need to show confidence in Broxton, or find another solution for the 9th inning.

The White Sox broke their seven-game losing streak by breaking out the bats against the Rays in the final game of their four game series. Juan Pierre, who has had a rough start to the season in the field, scored three runs and stole a base. The 9-2 margin of victory made it easy for the bullpen to finish off the Rays and a closer wasn’t needed.

The Twins got a much needed quality start from Scott Baker who pitched 7 innings, giving up 0 runs, 4 hits, and 1 walk while striking out 9 against the Orioles. Also for the Twins, Jim Thome hit career homer #591 on Thursday night. That’s his 27th with the Twins after 334 with Cleveland, 96 with Philadelphia, and 134 with the White Sox. Yes, he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Chris Capuano yielded only one run in 7 innings and the Mets hit three homers to beat the Astros 9-1. Capuano, one of GM Sandy Alderson’s “bargain” pickups, is now 2-1 on the season.

The Marlins got a grand slam from Scott Cousins (first HR ever) and the first homer of the year by Mike Stanton to lead the Fish over the Pirates 9-5. Cousins played CF on Thursday, but could be asked to play a significant amount of time in left field with Logan Morrison out for up to a month.

The cardiac Royals did it again on Thursday night as they came back to beat Chris Perez and the Indians. Melky Cabrera hit a two run single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th inning to earn the Royals a 3-2 win and a split of their four game series with the Indians.  Perez hadn’t been scored upon in 26 1/3 innings dating back to early August of last year. It was his first blown save of the season after saving his first 6 opportunities and he had saved 16 straight overall. The Royals are now one game behind the Indians again in the AL Central.

Felix Hernandez was spectacular as he pitched his best game of the season on Thursday night as the Mariners beat the Athletics 1-0. Felix went to 2-2 after shutting out the A’s for 7 2/3 innings and outdueling the A’s Brandon McCarthy, who went the distance and only made the mistake of giving up a homer to Adam Kennedy.

Roy Oswalt no-hit the Padres until Chris Denorfia singled in the fifth. That was the only hit that Oswalt gave up in 6 innings. Jose Contreras made it exciting in the 9th, but he held on to save Oswalt’s third win as the Phillies won 3-0. That was the 5th time the Padres have been shutout in 19 games this season.

Josh Beckett no-hit the Angels for five innings before Erick Aybar hit an infield single to start the 6th. Beckett didn’t get the decision for the Red Sox, but kept his ERA under 2.00 with his solid 8 inning performance. Dustin Pedroia went 3 for 4 and walked twice as he reached safely in 5 of 6 plate appearances. The Sox won the game in the 11th as Jonathan Papelbon recorded his 4th save.

 

What Happened (!!)Yesterday?

Mat Latos struggled again for the Padres going only 4 1/3 before coming out after 107 pitches. He walked 5 and struck out 7, but 2 homers and those deep counts caught up to him. His ERA is now 5.94 and he’s failed to surrender less than 3 runs in each start and has given up 4 homers in his two starts at Petco Park. Latos got hurt in spring training and you have to wonder if he’s still experiencing that shoulder tightness.

The Pirates pitchers had been faring well, but they struggled mightily in their three games in South Florida. The Bucs are counting on at least two of those three pitchers (Maholm, Morton, and McDonald) to pitch well this season. The key is walks and if these pitchers can harness their control, the Pirates will surprise some people this season.

The Angels pitchers gave up 11 walks in 11 innings on Thursday night. Guess what? They lost. What’s amazing is that they only gave up 4 runs to the Red Sox.

 

AL News/Notes

The Mariners defense has been atrocious this season and it could be taking more of a toll on the pitching staff than the lack of run support. Felix Hernandez has already given up five unearned runs which are about 30% of his total runs allowed on the season. Nothing gets into a pitcher’s head more than bad defense behind him and it usually results in pitcher’s trying to avoid contact and a higher walk rate ensues. Also not calculated in the numbers is how poor defense can result in more earned runs by fielders who can’t turn double plays or hit cutoff men.

Athletics owner Lew Wolff claims that he is not interested in buying the Dodgers. Red Sox chairman Tom Werner made similar statements regarding the Dodgers ownership situation when asked.

Erick Aybar has returned from the DL for the Angels and there’s now an abundance of infielders who need playing time. Manager Mike Scioscia doesn’t worry as he plans to shift players around to give everybody playing time.

The Blue Jays sent the struggling Brett Cecil to AAA to work on his mechanics. Cecil has suffered from control problems and his velocity has been down. Infielder Chris Woodward has been called up to add depth to the bench.

With both Delmon Young and Justin Morneau suffering from the flu, the Twins might be considering placing one or both onto the DL on Friday. Young also has sore ribs and would be the more likely one of the two to go on the DL if his MRI shows anything bad. The Twins offense has struggled and middle infielder Trevor Plouffe makes the most sense to bring up since the Twins don’t have strong hitters at second and short.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland is keeping the faith that second year CF Austin Jackson is going to snap out of his season long slump. Jackson is hitting .157 on the season and his OPS is below .500. Jackson impressed last season with his solid rookie campaign when he hit .293 and scored 103 runs. So far Jackson has only crossed home plate 7 times in 19 games, causing a huge gap in production for the Tigers struggling offense.

Red Sox 3B Kevin Youkilis left Thursday night’s game against the Angels after hitting a ball off his left shin. Reports after the game indicated that the x-ray was negative but the soreness could keep him out of the lineup for a few days.

 

NL News/Notes

The Rockies are tied for the best record in baseball at 13-5 and one of the reasons has been the production of leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler.

Amanda Comak of the Washington Times gives us a rundown of the current Nationals injuries, including updates on pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Chien-Ming Wang. Wang could essentially become a quality midseason pickup if the Nats are still in contention.

Braves RF Jason Heyward was out of the starting lineup on Thursday as he’s struggled in the early season. Heyward has only 5 hits in 33 road at bats as the Braves head for a weekend series in San Francisco.

Andrew McCutchen returned to the Pirates after leaving the team for a day to visit with his ailing father. He was back in the lineup against the Marlins.

Marlins LF Logan Morrison has his left foot in a hard cast and will be out 2 to 4 weeks. Manager Edwin Rodriguez says that Scott Cousins and Emilio Bonafacio will replace Morrison in the lineup.

Ryan Braun signed on with the Brewers for an additional five years at $21M per season. He’s now signed through 2020.

It looks like Wade LeBlanc will be called up by the Padres to face Roy Halladay on Sunday.

 

Streak of the Day

  • Dodgers Andre Ethier extending his hitting streak to 18 games
  • Royals Alex Gordon extended his career long hitting streak to 15 games
  • Royals Wilson Betemit extended his career long hitting streak to 12 games

 

Top Friday Matchups

7:05 EDT White Sox (Buehrle 1-1, 4.50) at Tigers (Verlander 1-2, 3.41)

8:05 EDT Royals (Francis 0-1, 3.00) at Rangers (Holland 2-1, 3.66)

8:15 EDT Reds (Volquez 2-0, 6.75) at Cardinals (McClellan 2-0, 1.89)

10:05 EDT Red Sox (Lester 1-1, 3.20) at Angels (Haren 4-0, 1.16)

10:15 EDT Braves (Hanson 1-2, 3.86) at Giants (Bumgarner 0-2, 7.36)

 

Last night’s balks: 0

Oakland Athletics Opening Day Overview

Oakland Athletics Opening Day Overview

Manager: Bob Geren     GM: Billy Beane

  Lineup:
1 CF Coco Crisp
2 1B Daric Barton
3 RF David DeJesus
4 LF Josh Willingham
5 DH Hideki Matsui
6 C Kurt Suzuki
7 2B Mark Ellis
8 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
9 SS Cliff Pennington

 

Crisp had a solid bounce back season in Oakland after signing from KC. He’s never been a great OBP guy and last year’s numbers were right in line with that. He’s not a long-term solution for the A’s in CF but can help them win games and maybe fetch a prospect or two in late July.  

Barton is Mr. OBP and led the AL in walks last season. He’s a high OBP guy with very modest, well, mediocre home run power. The A’s need him to remain the on base machine that he is and take his extra base power from close to 50 XBH to over 60 this season. At 25, he still has a lot of room to grow and could eventually become a 20+ HR guy to go along with his outstanding walk rate. He’s also one of the best fielding first basemen in the league.

DeJesus was rescued from Kansas City in the offseason and can play all of the outfield positions. He tore a ligament in his thumb that ended his season at 91 games. He’s a potential leadoff replacement for Crisp is they can find more powerful production for the #3 hole as he’s got a .360 career OBP after getting on at .384 last season.   

Willingham brings a big bat from DC and, of course, a good eye at the plate. It will be interesting to see how long he stays in Oakland as he’s a free agent at the end of the season. With Chris Carter waiting patiently at AAA for an opportunity in left field, Willingham is going to have to produce fairly quickly to stay in the lineup fulltime.

Matsui is a shell of his former Godzilla self. He still hit over 20 HRs last season with the Angels, but at 37 his best days are behind him. Unlike most decisions by Billy Beane, this signing looks more like a gate attraction signing rather than a good baseball move with prospects who could step in and equal or exceed what Matsui will do.

Suzuki took a step back last season as he had his worst average, OBP, and slugging. The A’s gave him a long term contract last year and need him to get back to the solid 2009 numbers and improve on those.

Ellis has been in Oakland forever and he could be done at the end of the year since his contract is expiring and Jemile Weeks is waiting. He’s a little pricey at $6M, but could be a solid addition to a team in the pennant race in late July. Philly could be an option if Utley doesn’t get healthier. Until then, the A’s will hope that he hits in the .290s again and plays his usual good defense.

Kouzmanoff came over from San Diego before last season and hit 16 HRs, but didn’t get on base (less than .300 OBP). He’s not a typical Beane type of player and should be somebody the A’s will be looking to replace as long as he’s the starting third baseman.

Pennington brings a mediocre bat with good speed. The good news for A’s fans is that their best prospect, Grant Green, is a shortstop who should be up no later than early next season.

  Starting Pitching
1 RHP Trevor Cahill
2 LHP Brett Anderson
3 LHP Gio Gonzalez
4 LHP Dallas Braden
5 RHP Brandon McCarthy

 

Cahill wasn’t on the opening day roster last season but starts this season. He had a tremendous breakout season in his second year in Oakland. While it might be difficult to expect a repeat season based on his K-BB ratio, he can come close if he can improve his strikeout rate.

Anderson might be the best unknown starter in the AL. While Cahill and Braden got a lot of attention last year, Anderson shook off early arm trouble and posted a 2.80 ERA. His win total should increase is he can start working later in the games (112 IP/19 GS), but the future looks bright for this 23 year old. If he can return to his 2009 strikeout rate and start over 30 games, he could make a run at the Cy Young award.

Gonzalez seems to have it all. He exceeded 200 IP for the first time last year and won 15 games. He struck out as many hitters as got hits (171). The next step this season is to further improve his BB rate and get it near 3 per 9 IP. If he does that, he could push his win total up near 18.

All Braden did last season was pitch a perfect game. He’s not a guy who brings the heat but he works the corners with off speed pitches and keeps the ball in the park. He’s not going to be a big winner on a team with a modest offense, but he takes the ball every five days and gives the A’s a chance to win as his 3.50 ERA last season shows. As the A’s continue to develop pitchers and Braden increases his salary in arbitration, the likelihood that he gets traded increases. That could happen later this season or in the winter.

McCarthy hasn’t pitched a full season since 2006. He’s suffered a number of injuries and probably won’t last the whole season without a trip to the DL. But he pitched well in AAA last season and again in Venezuela over the winter so the A’s signed him. The word on him in spring training was that he was looking good and his spot in the rotation is testament to that. Beane seems to make gambles that pay off and this one might as well.

  Bullpen
CL RHP Andrew Bailey(DL)/LHP Brian Fuentes
SET RHP Grant Balfour
  LHP Jerry Blevins
  LHP Craig Breslow
  LHP Bobby Cramer
  RHP Michael Wuertz
  RHP Brad Ziegler

 

Bailey is a solid pitcher when healthy but he missed time last year with elbow problems and will begin this season on the DL. The A’s will need him to be healthy to potentially surprise the rest of baseball this year.

Fuentes seems like he should be on the brink of becoming a situational lefty but still remains a viable candidate to close out games like he did for the Angels last season before his trade to the Twins. He’ll start this season as the A’s closer with Bailey out and could be called upon a few more times considering Bailey’s injury history.

Balfour got a two year deal for $8M to come over from the Rays where he was very good over the past three seasons. He another example of how the A’s have built a very good bullpen that should help to shorten their games and make their young starters winners more often.

Blevins is more of a lefty specialist who will benefit from having Balfour face right handed hitters late in the game. Breslow has a live arm but can get into trouble in smaller ballparks where his propensity to give up fly balls hurts him more on the road. Cramer came out of nowhere (literally) to pitch well in four starts last season and will pitch in long relief to start the season. Wuertz and Ziegler will back up the rest of the bullpen.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 1B Chris Carter
2 RHP Tyson Ross
3 OF Michael Taylor

 

Carter is the A’s top AAA prospect and can play LF as well. He could get a look if Willingham or Matsui struggles. Ross didn’t make the team in the spring after starting last year as the 5th starter. He’ll be in the mix if they need to add an injury replacement or somebody’s ineffective.  Taylor was a highly regarded Phillies prospect that came through Toronto for Brett Wallace. He’s got all of the tools and plays center field. If Crisp struggles or gets traded, it should open the door for Taylor.

Three Questions:

1. Will the young Athletics rotation continue to pitch well?

  • This staff shouldn’t sneak up on anybody this season and if they can fulfill expectations, they should be in the AL West race all season long. While not as accomplished as the Big Three of Hudson, Zito, and Mulder ten years ago, this Big Three of Cahill, Anderson, and Gonzalez has the potential to be just as good.

2. Can the Athletics lineup provide at least average production?

  • The pitching is going to be at the top of the league, but the key will be if the offense can score enough runs to win more than they lose. Once again Billy Beane has taken chances on older players, high OBP players, and players too expensive for KC. If at least a few of these guys pan out, then the A’s can keep it close so Beane can make a deadline deal or two in late July.

3. What will Billy Beane do to make this team better?

  • When the A’s were going to the playoffs with their previous generation of players, Beane would always be working the phones and finding a handful of deals to give the team the ammunition to make a late season push. No team used to be better record-wise after the trade deadline than the A’s. With a pitching staff capable of leading a team to the postseason once again, how will Beane address the offensive needs of this club as the season goes on? You can probably expect a player heading to free agency whose team will need to eat a portion of his contract to make the deal.

 

Projection

The A’s have all the pitching to make a run at the Rangers in the AL West. The advantage for the A’s is Beane’s proven ability to work the phones to improve a solid team with good pitching and make it great for the stretch run. If he’s able to pull the right strings, the A’s could win close to 90 games and claim their first division title since 2006.