A's April/May Report Card

Well, it’s June 2nd and the Oakland A’s are in a virtual tie for first place in the American League West. Who would’ve thought, huh? Pitching and defense have kept the A’s in the thick of things, and while the offense hasn’t stepped up yet, the A’s are starting to look like contenders in the weakened AL West. So, with the first two months officially in the books, here’s the A’s report card for April-through-May.

Let’s begin with pitching:

The A’s have a lot of pitching depth this season, and because of their talented young staff, the A’s find themselves in a good place in the standings. Ben Sheets, who signed with the A’s during the offseason for $10 million plus incentives (one-year), did not come out of the gates looking like the four-time NL All-Star that he is. Instead, Sheets had struggled with his curveball, and his fastball clocked in at 90-91 mph. However, during his last five starts Sheets is 1-0 with a 2.81 ERA. Sheets’ velocity is beginning to build up, and the A’s are 4-1 during Sheets’ last five starts. The Sheets signing may have been a bit expensive for Oakland, but right now, Billy Beane’s offseason spending spree isn’t looking as bad as it did in early April.

We all know, of course, about Dallas Braden’s perfect game on Mother’s Day. Braden, who is 4-5 with a 3.60 ERA this season, has been solid for most of the season. He’s logged the most innings among all Oakland starters with 70.0 IP. Braden, who is just 26, has been a strong “veteran” leader for Oakland’s extremely young rotation.

Despite losing Justin Duchscherer to yet another injury, the A’s are happy to see the improvement made by 24-year old Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who has been regarded in the past as a talented young stud, is finally making strides at becoming a solid pitcher in the big leagues. Gonzalez is currently 5-3 with a 3.68 ERA and leads the staff in strikeouts with 57. Gonzalez, who has struggled with his emotions and command in the past, has matured a lot this season. He is still having some problems with his command, but he’s been extremely solid so far this season for the A’s.

Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill have been extremely effective this season for the A’s. Despite missing five weeks with an injury, Anderson has performed well in four of his five starts this season. Anderson is 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 28.2 IP. Opponents are hitting a meager .213 off Anderson this season. Anderson’s dominance and promise have the A’s excited about the future. As for Cahill, he’s been on fire recently. Cahill is currently 4-2 with a 3.02 ERA in 41.2 IP this season. As I predicted earlier in the offseason, don’t be too surprised to see Anderson and Cahill combine to win 25 or more games for the A’s this year.

The bullpen, which is led by Andrew Bailey has been solid so far for the A’s as well. Bailey has recorded 11 saves in 13 opportunities, and owns a 1.29 ERA in 21.0 IP. The return of Michael Wuertz has also made Oakland’s bullpen even more solid. Despite his recent struggles, Wuertz still is a vital part to Oakland’s formidable ‘pen. Brad Ziegler, Tyson Ross, Craig Breslow and Jerry Blevins make up the rest of Oakland’s ‘pen.

In short, Oakland’s early success is credited to their strong pitching staff. Through June 2nd, the A’s own a team ERA of 3.90 (5th best in AL) and have recorded 30 Quality-Starts (5th best in AL). Opponents are hitting just .248 against the A’s, which is the 4th best mark in the AL.

Grades for pitching:

Starting rotation: B+ (Sheets: B-, Braden: B+, Anderson: A-, Cahill: B+, Gonzalez: B)

Bullpen: B (Bailey: A-, Ziegler: B+, Wuertz: C-, Breslow: B+, Blevins: C, Ross: C)

Overall: I’d give the A’s a strong B/weak B+ as of right now. With Sheets pitching extremely well, and Anderson back, the A’s should be okay heading into the third month of the season. The A’s talented young pitching should be enough to keep the A’s in the thick of things for most of the season. The A’s will need a power bat, however, if they are to make the playoffs. The A’s do have the financial flexibility as well as the minor league talent to make a big move before the deadline. They also have Chris Carter and Michael Taylor waiting in Triple-A as well.

Let’s now take a look at the A’s on offense:

Let’s face it, Oakland’s lineup card doesn’t scare anyone these days. A lineup consisting of guys like Rajai Davis, Cliff Pennington, Daric Barton, Ryan Sweeney, Kurt Suzuki, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Mark Ellis, Jack Cust and Gabe Gross is not a scary opposing lineup. What the A’s lack in power, they make up with speed and smart base-running. Davis, the A’s speedy OF has a major-league leading 23 stolen bases. On the year, Davis is currently batting .267/.312/.335 with 1 home run and 15 RBIs. Another standout for the A’s has been Barton, who is hitting .280/.396.441 with 4 homers and 22 RBIs. While those are not monster-type numbers by any means, Barton has remained consistent throughout the first two months of the season.

Ryan Sweeney and Kurt Suzuki, two of the bigger names on the lineup card, are currently the A’s leading candidates to make appearances at the All-Star game. Sweeney is currently the only A’s player who has a batting average over .300 (.309/.353/.399) and Suzuki leads the A’s in homer runs with 4. Suzuki, who is perhaps the second-best catcher after Joe Mauer, has struggled a bit recently, but is expected to be a key offensive player down the road. The A’s offensively lack a considerable power threat, and without a power-bat in the lineup, the A’s might have trouble locking up the division in September. And while the Rangers and Angels have suffered their share of injuries, the A’s losses of Eric Chavez, and Justin Duchscherer have not made things any easier.

Oakland has the financial flexibility as well as the minor league talent to make a big deal happen before the trade deadline, but are expected to find a power threat in their minor league system first. The A’s currently have top hitting prospects Chris Carter and Michael Taylor Triple-A, but both are hitting in the low .200’s. If the A’s pitching staff continues to carry them this season, the A’s will need a power bat to help make the load a little lighter for the staff. Ben Sheets is pitching well, and Anderson is back, so the A’s pitching staff should keep the team in contention for most of the season. A power-bat would certainly make the A’s a much more formidable team, and a more balanced team.

Grades for offense:

Standouts: Daric Barton, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Adam Rosales and Ryan Sweeney. Barton has swung the bat well, and each of the following players have knocked in 19 or more runs each.

Starting lineup: C

Bench: B-

Overall: A strong C would be the grade I award the A’s so far this season for their offensive showing. The team currently has the 8th best in the AL (.255) and have scored a 209 runs (11th in the AL). It could be said that the 2010 A’s are this version of the ’09 Mariners. If the A’s could only add just one power bat, then…

So there you have it. The A’s sit in a very good place right now, considering their constant fight with injuries. Overall, the A’s should be considered a serious threat in the American League West, especially since the Angels have lost Kendry Morales to a leg injury. The division is still wide open, but with the A’s pitching well, it’s hard not to like where they sit as a team.

OVERALL: B

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