One man's take at the All-Star Break


The 4-day rest for the Midsummer Classic is finally upon us which means two things: 1. Chris “BACK! BACK! BACK!” Berman is going to annoy us to death as usual during the Home Run Derby on ESPN and 2. It’s time for me to size up the A’s at the All-Star Break.

The A’s are a million miles out of first place and just as far away from the .500 mark. Sure, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but with an offense that scores about as often as a scrawny, pimple-faced high school geek it’s hard not to feel like Oakland’s deficit in the standings is insurmountable.

But enough of the small talk, let’s get on with the show.

HIGHLIGHTS

1. Manager Bob Geren getting the boot: Was there anything sweeter than hearing the breaking news that the A’s finally came to their senses and fired Geren? I’m sure he’s a really nice guy but he was a gawdawful manager and had to go.

2. The 6-game winning streak: New manager Bob made a great first impression with A’s fans when the team went on a tear for a half dozen games. For a little while there was optimism and passion in Oakland and the team could do no wrong in gold jerseys.

3. The emergence of Jemile Weeks: Who says this franchise can’t produce exciting young position players? Weeks is a productive hitter, a raw but promising defender and a fun, exciting personality. Just what the doctor ordered. Now all general manager Billy Beane needs to do is have about a half dozen or so prospects follow in Weeks’ white shoes and he’ll really have something.

LOWLIGHTS

Well, aside from the highlights listed above and several other little positive moments I guess most of this season qualifies as a lowlight. A team that looked like it had the potential to be one of the best in baseball if everything broke their way is currently one of the worst teams in the land. But for the sake of consistency, I’ll list a few of my lowlights from this year.

1. Opening Night: Looking back, this game gave me a bad gut feeling about how the season would play out and I wasn’t wrong. The A’s looked sloppy and lifeless, nothing like a team that was ready to rise to the heightened expectations they had coming into 2011. The losses have kept on coming at a steady rate since they dropped their home opener.

2. Getting swept by the Yankees May 30 through June 1: Oakland came into this series fresh off a sweep of the Orioles that moved them back to .500 and within shouting distance of first place in the AL West. It looked like the perfect opportunity to prove themselves against the mighty Yankees but instead of stepping up, the A’s wilted under the pressure and exposed themselves as a club that’s nowhere near ready for prime time.

It’s the kind of series the A’s used to thrive on when The Big Three was still together but Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez looked like frightened Little Leaguers against the Bronx Bombers. This series marked the start of the losing streak that would take down Geren so I guess it’s a lowlight that borders on being a backhanded highlight.

3. The 4-game series in Texas that just wrapped up: As far as I’m concerned this was Oakland’s final shot to get back into contention and fend off a fire sale and they failed miserably. As Bill Paxton said in “Aliens,” “Game’s over, man! Game’s (bleeping) over!”

BEST POSITION PLAYER

Josh Willingham: I guess I could throw this one to Weeks but I’ll tip my hat to the Hammer while I can because he’ll probably get traded in the next few weeks. Willingham has been the only guy in the lineup who’s provided RBIs and a consistent power threat. Unfortunately he’s only hitting under .250 and his Achilles tendon is hanging by a thread.

WORST POSITION PLAYER

Daric Barton: The man’s picture belongs on the side of a milk carton because he’s been missing for months. What the heck happened to Barton? The stellar defense and solid average to go along with a sky-high on-base percentage vanished and it hasn’t resurfaced since his demotion to Sacramento. I can’t believe I actually had high hopes for Barton heading into this season.

BEST PITCHER

Gio Gonzalez: He’s an All Star so that’s an easy call. Aside from the stinkers he’s put up in two starts in Arlington, Texas he’s been one of the best pitchers in the league. Gio earns extra points for his fashion sense. No one has embraced the gold jerseys as much gusto as Gonzalez.

WORST PITCHER

Brian Fuentes: Another easy call. He has 8 losses, an ERA close to 5.00 and it seems like he puts a couple of guys on every time he gets into a game. The thought of having him under contract for one more year makes me cringe right now.

QUICK, RANDOM THOUGHTS

• I love me some BoMel. Oakland’s new manager has at least brought some passion back to the club and embraced the franchise’s rich winning history. I can see why guys love playing for him because he’s seems like a genuinely good man who shows up to the ballpark every day with a positive attitude expecting to win. It’s not his fault he’s trying to win with the same imperfect roster Geren had.

• Where did the defense go for the A’s? Great pitching and defense were the two things I was counting on heading into the season and only the pitching came through. From Day 1 of this season Oakland has been giving too many games away with sloppy defense, cutting their margin for error from slim to none.

• I continue to harbor suspicions that the Coliseum is actually built on top of an old Indian burial ground because it often feels like the A’s are cursed. The injuries never seem to end, hitters lose their touch as soon as they join the club, former prospects such as Carlos Gonzalez and Andre Ethier end up thriving elsewhere, ownership remains cheap and clueless and MLB commissioner Bud Selig continues to leave the ballpark situation in limbo. Something has to start breaking in the A’s favor at some point, right?

• Why does it seem like every time I tune in to the A’s flagship radio station 95.7 FM they’re spending a lot more time talking about the Giants than the A’s? Wouldn’t I be tuned in to KNBR if I wanted to hear about Bruce Bochy’s bunch?

LOOKING TO THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON

As I mentioned in my most recent post I’m ready for the fire sale and looking forward to seeing if the A’s can develop some useful young players for 2012.
Here are my predictions/hopes for the rest of the campaign:

• Tyson Ross thrives in the rotation shortly after the A’s clear some space for him by moving Rich Harder and Brandon McCarthy.

• Scott Sizemore settles in at third base and proves to be a pleasant surprise with the bat. He’s a nice post-hype acquisition by Beane on the cheap and should even chip in with a handful of steals by the time the 2011 season is in the books.

• Carter establishes himself as a defensively challenged, strikeout prone everyday player with enough home run binges against mediocre No. 4 and 5 starters to offer some hope for the future. Oakland needs to stop dwelling on what Carter isn’t (a decent defensive player with an OK batting average) and enjoy what he is: A young kid with massive power and a minuscule salary. For a club that cries poverty all the time that’s a valuable player to have under contractual control for several years.

• Michael Taylor continues to hit well in Sacramento and comes up to deliver a solid September with the big league club. It’d be nice to have something vaguely resembling an asset from the Carlos Gonzalez and Matt Holliday trades.

I guess that’s not much to get excited about but at this point I think that’s all I have to look forward to as a fan over the next few months. Well, that and MC Hammer Bobblehead day of course.

These days I’ll take my silver linings anywhere I can find’em.

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