Oakland Athletics v Milwaukee Brewers

Springtime Storylines: Did the Athletics add enough offense?


Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: The San Jose A’s (pending committee review).

The Big Question: Did the Athletics add enough offense?

The A’s were 11th in the American League in runs scored last year. In comes Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham. Out go Jack Cust, Gabe Gross, and Rajai Davis.  This is improvement. How much of an overall improvement, however, depends on whether the solid-yet-not-spectacular returning starters hold their own and/or improve.

Daric Barton had a nice season last year and one presumes that entering his age-25 season he could build on that, even if some projections are pessimistic.  Mark Ellis was another relative bright spot last year but I’m more pessimistic about him, as his 2010 season was out of step from his previous handful of seasons.  Kevin Kouzmanoff and Kurt Suzuki each had pretty dreadful years at the plate. Neither will ever win a Silver Slugger Award, but each has a bit more than they exhibited in 2010, and even a bit of upward-trending noise will help.

All of which gets to the heart of things for Oakland: with the pitching staff (more about them below) no one requires offensive heroics from this bunch.  What they need to avoid are total sinkhole seasons from multiple players like they had last season.  Getting rid of Gross and returning Coco Crisp to the lineup eliminates a couple of sinkholes. Adding Willingham and DeJesus brings in some upside (and also some injury risk).  Everyone else needs to at least be competent. It’s not a tall order for a team that will frequently be playing in low scoring games.

So what else is going on?

  • Obviously the rotation is a team strength. Trevor Cahill  was fantastic last year. Brett Anderson was too, and if he’s healthy this year — a big honkin’ if given his recent elbow troubles — he could really be something special.  Gio Gonzalez has looked phenomenal this spring and some people around the A’s camp think that he’s going to explode in 2011. I’m not sure if they do irony in the 209, but the guy that threw the perfect game last year may be the weakest of the A’s top four pitchers. Young pitching can break your heart, but if the members of the rotation can avoid being mentioned in the same paragraph as Dr. James Andrews this year, there is every reason to think they’ll be the best bunch in the American League.
  • Besides the offense, a weak spot last season was the team’s bullpen, but Billy Beane addressed it this winter, adding Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour to the mix. With Andrew Bailey, those three combine for an outstanding late inning troika.  The concern, of course, is health.  Bailey has already missed time this spring. Balfour and Fuentes aren’t young. But really, the bullpen has been significantly improved. Throw in Michael Wuertz, Craig Breslow and Joey Devine and the A’s are competing with the Yankees for the deepest bullpen in the league.
  • Helping both the starters and the pen is some pretty spiffy defense. Barton is one of the best defensive first basemen around and Ellis and Cliff Pennington are solid up the middle. Kouzmanoff isn’t what he once was with the glove, but he’s no slouch. The only bad thing about all of this is if the A’s win the West, we’re going to hear from every person who ever misunderstood “Moneyball” about how crazy it is that the Moneyball A’s won with pitching and defense. That is always a tedious conversation.
  • We’re coming upon the two-year anniversary of Bud Selig’s announcement of the formation of the committee to study whether the A’s should move to San Jose. So far the committee has yet to make a peep, but its existence — and the specter of the team moving south — has done much to dampen fan enthusiasm. Between that nonsense and the desecration of the Oakland Coliseum with those seats for Raiders game — which simultaneously blocked what used to be a nice view of the hills and prevented any Anaheim-style renovation of the place to make it a pleasant ballpark — I’m struggling to think of a fanbase that has been more abused than that of the A’s. It’s a shame given that the A’s should be pretty damn good this season.

So how are they going to do?

Quite well.  Indeed, while I’m still picking the Rangers — a pick about which I am less enthusiastic given yesterday’s announcement that Neftali Feliz is returning to the bullpen — I think Oakland will challenge Texas all year and it wouldn’t shock me at all if they took the division instead.  For them to do it, though, will take health, the continued progression of their young rotation and some relative upside years from a few otherwise limited hitters.  And one tends not to get rich betting on luck, health and young pitching.

Call them second place in the West, but second with a bullet. If things break right, playoffs.

People are paying tens of thousands to get into the World Series

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24:  Chicago Cubs fans visit Wrigley Field on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs will face off against the Cleveland Indians in the World Series beginning tomorrow. This will be the Cubs first trip to the series since 1945. The Indians last trip to the series was 1948.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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Ticket prices for the World Series are always ridiculous, but this year things are heading to a whole new ridiculous level.

Now, to be clear, some of the figures you hear are not what will be paid for tickets. The Associated Press has the de rigueur story of ticket holders asking, like, a million dollars for their tickets and ticket seekers willing to give all kinds of in-kind goods and services for a chance to see the Cubs play in Wrigley. A lot of that noise will never amount to any real transaction and, in some cases, will likely end up with someone getting arrested. It’s crazy time, you know.

But even if those million dollar and sex-for-tickets stories end up being more smoke than fire, people will end up paying astronomical prices to get in. Some already are. ESPN’s Darren Rovell reports that someone paid $32,000 on StubHub for 4 seats in the front row by the Cubs visitors dugout for Game 2 at Progressive Field in Cleveland. The prices in Wrigley Field for Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5 will likely go higher. There’s a ton of pent-up demand on the part of both Cubs and Indians fans, after all.

Still: trying to imagine how an in-stadium experience, no matter how long someone has been waiting for it, is worth that kind of scratch. Guess it all depends on whether that kind of money constitutes that kind of scratch for a given person.

World Series Reset: Cubs vs. Indians Game 1

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 24:  Manager Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs speaks with the media during Media Day for the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 24, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
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The Game: Chicago Cubs @ Cleveland Indians, World Series Game 1
The Time: 8:00 PM EDT
The Place: Progressive Field, Cleveland
The Channel: FOX
The Starters: Jon Lester (Cubs) vs. Corey Kluber (Indians)

The Upshot:

After 2,430 (give or take) regular season games and 28 playoff games, we’ve arrived at the World Series. By now the teams should need no introduction, but if you’d like a general overview, by all means, check out or World Series preview from yesterday. The short version: the Cubs may be the best team in baseball this year, but the World Series is a lot more evenly-matched than many believe. Including the gamblers who have caused the Vegas oddsmakers to set this as a 2-1 affair in favor of the Cubs. We don’t think that reflects baseball reality, even if it reflects gambling reality.

On the field in Game 1 is a classic battle of aces. Jon Lester, who has a chance to win the NL Cy Young Award this year, faces off against Corey Kluber, who won the Cy Young Award a couple of years ago and rounded back into Cy Young form in the second half of this season. At the moment manager Terry Francona certainly sees him as an old school ace, with reports that Kluber could get the start in Game 1, Game 4 and, if necessary, Game 7 should things last that long. Somewhere Bob Gibson is smiling.

Lester is 2-0 and has allowed two runs in 21 playoff innings across three starts this year. He threw eight shutout innings in Game 1 of the Division Series against the Giants, gave up one run in six innings in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers and gave up one run in seven innings in an Game 5 of the NLCS. For his part, Kluber tossed seven shutout innings against the Red Sox in the Division Series, six and a third shutout innings against the Jays in the first game of the ALCS and allowed two runs in five innings in a loss in Game 5 of the ALCS.

The Indians are hoping, of course, that Kluber can leave with a lead, allowing them to go long with relief aces Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. The Cubs will no doubt be looking to strike quickly, knowing that coming from behind against that Cleveland pen is a tall order. Not that the Indians can count on late heroics themselves given that Aroldis Champan looms late for the Cubs. Both lineups are filled with potential game-changing bats, but bullpens loom large here.

The runup to this has been all about 1908 and 1945 and 1948 with a splash of 1995 and 1997 thrown in. None of that matters as of tonight. At that point, the game will be in the hands of men who weren’t even born for most of that and who have only hazy memory of some of it. The 2016 World Series will be decided by 2016 players, not by curses or the weight of history.

It all gets underway just after 8pm.