Taking a moment to look back, look ahead, and fire off some random observations as I turn the page on the calendar to August.
* Posting a 13-13 record in July was a decent accomplishment for a team more than 10 games under .500 but let me get this straight: In the first half of the season the A’s almost always pitched great but they could almost never hit but now that the All-Star Break is in the rear view mirror they’re doing almost the exact opposite? The 2011 A’s will never cease to amaze me for all the wrong reasons.
* Remember when I said hitting coach Gerald Perry needs to go? What I really meant to say is, “Gerald Perry is a brilliant hitting coach and it’s just a matter of time before the A’s buy what he’s selling and the team scores at least 4 runs in more than 10 games in a row.” You’re great Gerald, don’t change a thing. Me? I’m a bad, bad man who will now go sit in the corner and feel shame for picking on you. As Adam Sandler said in “Happy Gilmore,” “I’m stupid. You’re smart. I was wrong. You were right. You’re the best. I’m the worst. You’re very good-looking. I’m not attractive.”
* Good gawd, Conor Jackson’s beard is ugly. But with an OPS over .900 since the break he’s earned the right to be as fuzzy as he wants to be. Imagine how much hotter Cliff Pennington would be at the plate if he followed suit? Ditch the razor Penny, it’s time to morph into hard hittin’ Grizzly Pennington.
* My one big knock on seeing the A’s score in bunches over the past couple of weeks is that it’s all happening now that the season is a lost cause and none of the games really matter anymore. I love watching the guys in green and gold rake in garbage time as much as the next guy but until I see the pitching and hitting click at the same time in a big series against the Yankees, Red Sox or Rangers I’ll be skeptical that this ballclub is ready for prime time.
* I have to say that the most disappointing thing about watching the trade deadline pass with the A’s making just one move was watching Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos wheel and deal his way into acquiring Colby Rasmus for a bunch of spare parts. It felt like the kind of 3-team transaction general manager Billy Beane would have pulled off in the good old days. Rasmus is exactly the kind of young, promising 5-tool player the A’s should be aggressively trying to acquire. I have to say that I really like Anthopoulos’ creative, aggressive style. The only way the Blue Jays are going to have a chance to give the mighty Yankees and Red Sox a run for the money in the AL East is if they take some chances and Anthopoulos clearly gets it.
It’ll take some equally bold moves to get the A’s back into the discussion as legitimate playoff contenders in the American League.
* For my money, Oakland faces a steep uphill battle to even play .500 ball in August. The schedule has them on the road most of the month where the A’s are just 18-35 this year. .340 is an awesome batting average but it makes for a lousy winning percentage away from home. The fact that the A’s will have to go through Toronto, New York, Boston and Cleveland won’t help matters any. This month could get really ugly really fast.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team make some more minor trades as the losses pile up and they try to pass players through waivers over the next month.
* It’s going to be a little strange getting used to a Ziggy-free bullpen over the next few weeks. I have to admit that he was one of my favorite A’s, a great story and a real class act. Just getting to the majors was an amazing feat of skill and determination for Ziegler and the fact that he set the record for consecutive scoreless innings to start a career made the story even sweeter. Good luck to him as he joins the Diamondbacks in their longshot quest to knock off the Giants in the NL West. I don’t know if I buy into the idea that a team running Cody Ransom out there as a starting shortstop can make it into the playoffs but it should be fun to watch them try.
* Want to know how far ahead I’m looking? I’m already looking forward to September when Michael Taylor should get at least a cup of coffee in Oakland. Let’s see if the kid can be part of the long-term solution to Oakland’s offensive problems.
* One more thing on just how far ahead I’m looking: I’m already looking forward to the offseason and it has nothing to do with getting a break from sub-.500 A’s baseball. Oakland should have some money to throw around again and if they’re lucky they just might reel in a big fish or two. I think an X-factor in the A’s free agent chase is manager Bob Melvin. If the A’s can finish the season on a decent note with Melvin setting a great tone it might help nudge a free agent or two off the fence when they’re mulling over a contract offer from the team.
* One thing I am not looking forward to is seeing Brian Fuentes pitch against the powerful Blue Jays, Rangers, Yankees and Red Sox this month. Want a prediction for how that’s going to work out for Fuentes? To quote Mr. T in “Rocky III,” “Pain.”
* Since Beane was only able to make one trade at the deadline I really hope that Brandon Allen makes a big splash at some point this season. I’m not saying Allen isn’t a nice acquisition for a very low price, because he is. I’d give my left arm for a power hitting first basemen so I don’t have any problem with Beane giving up Ziegler’s right arm for Allen. But in all honesty I would have been a lot more excited about this trade if it happened a couple of years ago when Allen seemed like a hotter prospect.
The fact that the Diamondbacks preferred to give a stiff like first baseman Juan Miranda at bats this year instead of Allen makes me a little suspicious that Oakland simply has a Chris Carter clone on its hands. If the front office doesn’t buy into Carter I have to wonder how they’re going to feel about Allen after getting a close look at him. I’m crossing my fingers that they let Allen get some consistent playing time in Oakland. I can live with strikeouts if there are a lot of homers mixed in.
* I’ll say this for Beane, when it comes to making a trade it takes two to tango and it sounds like the price just wasn’t right to move anyone else. I assume he has a passing interest in bringing at least one part of the Josh Willingham/David DeJesus/Coco Crisp combo back next year so keeping them in the fold for another couple of months and taking draft picks if some of them leave in the offseason probably beats giving them away for next to nothing if that’s all opposing teams were offering. I’m still disappointed the A’s didn’t do more at the deadline but if there are no deals to be had there’s no point pulling the trigger just for the sake of making a little noise.
* Back to Carter for a moment: Could it be any more obvious that the organization doesn’t really believe in this kid? First they spend the offseason blocking his path to the majors by acquiring Willingham, DeJesus and Hideki Matsui. Then when they call him up they don’t give him consistent at bats and now they trade for Allen. It seems like when the A’s front office truly believes in a position player the call him up and and leave him in the lineup. They did it in the past with players such as Jason Giambi, Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada and they did it this year with Jemile Weeks. The fact that they’ve done everything to avoid doing that with Carter speaks volumes.
I’m still a big fan of the big guy and I hope Oakland finds a way to stick him in the lineup and discover once and for all whether he’s a part of the team’s future. In a perfect world Allen, Carter and Taylor grow into a fearsome threesome in the heart of the A’s lineup over the next couple of years with Grant Green and Michael Choice joining the fun at some point.
* I have to admit that I’m bummed out that the Colorado Rockies never climbed back into the NL West race. I was really hoping that former A’s second basemen Mark Ellis would get a chance to play in some meaningful games down the stretch and stick it to the Giants but right now he’s playing for a team that’s 10 games out of first place. The Rockies have always shown a knack for insane second half hot streaks but I think they may not have the horses to make that kind of push this year, especially after sending Ubaldo Jimenez to the Indians.
* Want to know the truth? Aside from listening to ballgames I’ve pretty much tuned out of the A’s flagship radio station 95.7 FM. Maybe it’s just me but it feels like they’re almost always talking about the Giants when I tune in during my commute. It looks like they’ve revamped their lineup this week so I may give them one more chance to win me over.
So, in a nutshell, July was decent and August is ripe with the potential to be absolutely brutal for the guys in white shoes. If the offense can come anywhere close to keeping up its recent torrid pace and the pitching can get back to pre-All-Star Break form Oakland might have a shot at breaking even this month.
August will be a real test for Melvin but if anyone can keep a positive atmosphere in the clubhouse during the dog days of summer it’s BoMel. It should help that pending free agents Willingham, Matsui, Crisp and DeJesus are all motivated to finish strong before they hit the open market.