Well we've got 11 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Oakland Athletics.
Lineup: Well, at least we're getting the worst part of this team out of the way. Put simply, there are not likely to be more than two or three above-average hitters on this team. Not star-level, just...above-average. Jack Cust, one of the patron saints of the Three True Outcomes, will lead the charge...if he can prove that last season's dropoff was an isolated event. Daric Barton retains some promise as the team's first baseman, but he's done little in his major league career to date. Kurt Suzuki is a very solid catcher, but he's still being judged relative to other catchers' hitting ability (viz he's not likely to perform at the league average for all hitters). Kevin Kouzmanoff is a fallen prospect, who escaped the frying pan of Petco Park only to find himself in the fiery Oakland Coliseum. We don't have high hopes for him, is what we're saying. Mark Ellis was a very good second baseman a few seasons ago, but he can't stay healthy, and isn't all that productive anymore. Rajai Davis, Ryan Sweeney, and Coco Crisp aren't great shakes with the bat (Davis being a possible exception; he also has extraordinary speed), but they are excellent defenders, which will help this team compete the only way they'll be able to: preventing runs. Before we move on, though, pour one out for Zombie Eric Chavez. Yes, he's still on this team.
Rotation: There's some definite promise to be had here, which is good, because like we said, this team is only going to win if they can prevent runs. Free agent acquisition and nominal ace Ben Sheets has had what could charitably be called a horrendous Spring Training, even failing to retire a single batter in one outing, but if he can stay healthy (he can't) then we still have faith in his impeccable control and strikeout stuff. But the pitcher we're most excited about on this team is Brett Anderson. Last season, he posted a 3.69 FIP and 3:1 K:BB ratio...as a rookie. He might be the best pitcher on this team already. Dallas Braden found success as well, albeit in 22 starts, and so should give this team at least three productive starters. Trevor Cahill, who like Anderson came into last season with an excellent pedigree, but struggled in his debut year, with a pedestrian 4.63 K/9 and a 5.33 FIP. He will have to improve if he's going to help this team. Justin Duchscherer has the inside track for the fifth spot here, and as a guy who led the league in ERA just a couple seasons ago, has some promise if he can stay healthy (he can't, either). Josh Outman, Gio Gonzalez, and Vin Mazzaro make this one of the deeper pitching staffs in baseball, so they shouldn't have too much of a dropoff if (when) Sheets and Duchscherer miss some time.
Bullpen: Despite the high marks that the rotation earns, the bullpen is even better. Andrew Bailey, last season's RoY, was superb, posting a near-10 K's per 9 to go along with a 2.56 FIP. Brad Ziegler is a groundballing fiend who earned notoriety for tossing 38 consecutive innings to begin his Oakland career, and Michael Wuertz has a flat-out unhittable slider that led him to strike out 12 per 9. Those three form one of, if not the most, formidable back ends of a 'pen that you'll see anywhere. Plus, there's Joey Devine, who was coming into his own before missing last season with Tommy John surgery. This is a group that can really shorten up games.
Overall: If the A's are going to compete in a loaded AL West, they're going to have to win a lot of 2-1 games. Fortunately, they've got the pitching - and the offense! - to do just that. Health will be a big question mark here, though, as Sheets and Duchscherer are just as likely to miss the entire season as they are to post sub-3.00 ERAs. The A's do have depth all over the place and will play some excellent defense, so there's contingencies in place, but we see this team ending up like the Mariners last year - posting a big enough turnaround to get noticed, but not enough to sneak into the playoffs. They'll pitch and defend with the best of them, but they just don't have the hitters yet.
Predicted Record: 76-86, 4th place AL West
Beer: Sam Adams Light. We hate to dip back into the Sam Adams catalog, but as light beers go, it's very flavorful. Plus, it's 4% ABV, a perfect analog for a team that'll be happy to score 4 runs per game. Light impact, but decidedly enjoyable (see e.g. the young pitchers and Rajai Davis): that sounds like the A's to us.