Could such a punchless A’s team win the AL West?

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If the A’s bring in Chone Figgins to replace Kevin Kouzmanoff at third base, they’d enter the season with a lineup that looks something like this:

3B Chone Figgins
RF David DeJesus
1B Daric Barton
LF Josh Willingham
DH Hideki Matsui
C Kurt Suzuki
2B Mark Ellis
CF Coco Crisp
SS Cliff Pennington

My 2011 projections call for that group of nine to hit 102 homers. Here’s the breakdown:

Figgins – 2
DeJesus – 11
Barton – 14
Willingham – 19
Matsui – 17
Suzuki – 13
Ellis – 9
Crisp – 10
Pennington – 7

Of course, the 2010 A’s hit just 109 homers. Kouzmanoff, who would presumably be shipped off in a Figgins trade, was the team leader with 16, followed by the also departed Jack Cust and Suzuki with 13 apiece.

The A’s were one of three teams last season to have no one hit 20 homers, the others being the last-place Mariners and Royals.

In the last 20 years, only one team has reached the postseason without having a 20-homer guy: the 2005 Padres pulled off the feat, claiming the NL West with an 82-80 record before getting swept by the Cardinals in the NLDS.

Since then, one team has reached the postseason while hitting fewer than 135 homers: the 2007 Angels. Here’s a list of the postseason teams with the fewest homers from the last five years:

2006 Twins – 143 HR
2007 Angels – 123 HR
2008 Dodgers – 137 HR
2009 Dodgers – 145 HR
2010 Braves – 139 HR

And for what it’s worth, those five teams went 2-5 in the postseason, with both Dodgers teams winning one series and then getting eliminated in the NLCS.

So recent history certainly hasn’t been kind to teams that can’t knock the ball out of the park about once per game. Odds are that someone on the A’s will get to 20 homers this year — Willingham should if he stays healthy enough to reach 500 at-bats — but the pitching is going to have to be excellent if the club is going to overtake the Rangers.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.