PHOENIX -- Oakland is the perfect spring team. Pitching rich, optimism soaring, no regular-season losses yet.
"It's definitely the most positive since I've been here," fourth-year reliever Brad Ziegler says. "There's no doubt that this team expects to win."
"The mood is high," starter Dallas Braden says. "Everybody is ready to go out and ball out of control."
|What I like and dislike about the A's so far this spring. Read more>>|
"On the days they score four runs, they're going to be tough to beat," says a veteran scout. "I think they've got a chance to be the San Francisco Giants of this year. I really do."
Yes, Oakland is the perfect spring team.
But can the Athletics channel their late-1980s past to become a perfect summer team ... and better yet, a perfect autumn team?
Maybe it's something in the San Francisco Bay water. That sentiment -- that this year's Athletics are comparable to last year's Giants -- is out there in many quarters.
But it is a Willie Mays-sized stretch because, for starters, as good as Oakland's arms are, none of its starters is back-to-back Cy Young winners. The Giants brought one of those into the season last year in Tim Lincecum.
Still, the Athletics unquestionably have some young gems alongside Braden, 27, who threw the memorable Mother's Day perfect game last year.
In finishing 81-81 a year ago, the A's held opponents to 3.86 runs per game -- third-best in the majors.
Breakout ... Brett Anderson: This should have happened last year. Anderson was a Fantasy favorite after posting a 2.96 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP and 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings over his final 17 starts as a rookie. But injury after injury doomed him at the start of 2010, limiting him to one start in May (strained forearm) and one start in June (sore elbow). Once his arm calmed down and he returned to the rotation, he pitched to expectations, posting a 2.59 ERA over his final 12 starts. Chances are you'll be able to draft him as your third pitcher, perhaps waiting until the middle rounds to do so.
Bust ... David DeJesus: DeJesus may not seem like bust material since Fantasy owners already view him as a late-round pick, but by drafting him at all, they're putting too much stock in his 2010 performance. Yes, he hit a career-high .318 last year, but much of that came from a ridiculously hot June when he hit .410. He was on the DL three weeks later, out for the year with a thumb injury, so he never got a chance to regress to the mean. DeJesus isn't useless in Fantasy, but if you draft him thinking he'll help you make up ground in batting average, you'll likely be disappointed.
Sleeper ... Coco Crisp: In between the strained pectoral and the two broken pinkies in 2010, Crisp showed something he hasn't shown since he was first making a name for himself with the Indians. He was an all-around threat, taking advantage of his freedom on the base paths after getting held back in Boston and regaining the power he lost as a part-time player. The result was eight homers and 32 steals in 290 at-bats, which translates to something like 15 homers and 60 steals over a full season. You don't think that's a big deal in Fantasy? Well, only four outfielders averaged more than Crisp's 3.8 Fantasy points per game in standard Head-to-Head leagues last year.-- Scott White
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But here's where their Gertrude Stein lineup ("there is no there there") comes in: Their 4.09 runs per game last season ranked 23rd in the majors.
"We're more balanced this year," Anderson offers. "We've got speed at the top. And we've got power threats we haven't had the last couple of years."
"The big thing was, we had to add offense and we definitely did not want to sacrifice defense," manager Bob Geren says. "David DeJesus is a solid outfielder who can play all three positions and bat first, second or third in the lineup. He was a great addition.
"Willingham is not necessarily the fastest guy, but he's a good fundamental ballplayer and can bat fourth for us. Hideki will bring more numbers for our DH spot.
Plus, the A's used the disabled list a whopping 23 times last year, which helped ground the lineup.
So maybe all of this helps push the A's toward home plate more often, though Matsui mostly has looked cold as yesterday's meatloaf this spring. He was hitting .115 with one home run the other day, and his bat has been so slow that one scout says he placed the over/under number on homers from Matsui at 12.
"I'd like everybody to have a great spring," Geren says. "But I'd like people to have a better second half of the spring than first half.
"His bat speed is coming around. He's getting in shape. He hit a home run the other day off of [Colorado's] Huston Street that he really crushed. It made you feel good to see that."
It was enough to feed the optimism and keep the A's dreaming of warm summer days with, say, five or six runs a game.
That happens, maybe the A's really will take those giant steps this year.
"Our pitching staff is unbelievable," Anderson says. "I like our staff as a whole as good as anybody in the league."
"Everything is great and sounds great in theory," Braden says. "Everything looks great on paper.
"But nobody wants to be dubbed paper champs. We know it takes work. San Francisco's pitching is one of the elites in the game. Then they brought in some guys who filled roles midway through the season last year, and they played like champions."
Yes, these A's see a parallel between themselves and their across-the-Bay rivals. Hey, it's spring. Why not? The Giants are defending champions. Sounds pretty good from across the Bay.
"It's real easy to draw similarities," Braden says. "A potent pitching staff, an AL team playing little NL-style ball. That's part of our identity."
So, too, is a lineup that last year dragged them down. With Cahill, Anderson, Braden and Gonzalez lined up, what the Swingin' A's need to do is to get a-swingin'.