By Michelle Dingley
The Oakland Athletics have their work cut out for them this spring. Last season, a stream of injuries and endless speculation about moving the team didn’t do them any favors, as they ended the year in third place with a 74-88 record. To be a winning team in 2012, the A’s will have to scratch and claw against an improved division, featuring the Angels’ overrated acquisition of Albert Pujols. In my opinion, one good player, or even one spectacular player, can only make so big a difference. Adding Cliff Lee to the Phillies’ rotation last season didn’t make them a 162-0 team like so many of their fans seemed to expect. Nonetheless, you need talent to succeed. The A’s have some talent, though much of it is unproven, as green as their jerseys. But with the front office’s focus apparently on the potential move to San Jose rather than this season’s success, these Athletics are on their own to become a winning team.
Compared to the storms over the prior weekend’s Giants games, the sky was bright during the A’s games last Monday and Tuesday. The future of the A’s, however, is not as clear. After trading away much of their prized pitching, Oakland again faces a period of rebuilding. With Moneyball giving everyone a peek into the thoughts of the front office, signing undervalued players and trading away anyone worth anything, we shouldn’t be too surprised. Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzales and Andrew Bailey are gone. Last year’s rookie sensation Jemile Weeks has fast become the face of the franchise. Manny Ramirez was signed at a bargain basement price. He can’t play for 50 games, but after his suspension, he should draw a decent crowd. The A’s forked over a pretty penny for Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. The rest of the lineup will mostly be pieced together with former River Cats and players acquired from other teams.
Monday’s starter for the A’s, Jarrod Parker, faced off against his former team, the Diamondbacks. He didn’t fare very well, getting pulled after 3 2/3 innings, giving up 7 walks, striking out none, and surrendering 2 runs. But the story of this game was the long ball, thanks largely to the wind blowing out. Josh Reddick, Manny Ramirez and Brandon Allen all homered for the A’s, helping give the team a 6-2 lead into the fifth. The score held up until the 8th, when a 2-run jack by the D-backs’ Cody Ransom made it a 6-4 game. In the 9th, Paul Goldschmidt made it a one-run game with a solo shot. That’s a bit close for comfort, but the A’s stuck it out for the win.
The A’s kept it interesting in Tuesday’s game against the Cubs, the kind of interesting that could give a fan a heart attack. A combination of weak A’s defense and a not particularly sharp outing by Brandon McCarthy gave the Cubbies a 4-1 lead, which held up into the 8th. Kila Ka’aihue led off the 8th with a solo home run, cuttingChicago’s lead in half. Weak defense again hurt the A’s in the top of the ninth, when a Jim Miller wild pitch advanced a runner to second. The runner scored on an error, when Cliff Pennington unnecessarily rushed a throw.
The Green and Gold were down 5-2 and down to their final 3 outs. Jonny Gomes came in to pinch hit, and he smashed a solo homer. Cespedes followed that up with a double and was knocked in on a Cedric Hunter single, bringing the score to 5-4. Anthony Recker erased Hunter with a double play. Down to their last out, Adam Rosales drew a walk, and Ka’aihue drove him in with a double, tying the game. A wild pitch advanced pinch runner Eric Sogard to third, just 90 feet away from an A’s win. Pennington connected, and the crack of the bat was beautiful. It sounded like victory. The Cubs’ Tony Campana had other ideas. The Cubs’ speedy left fielder had already been a menace at the plate, and would finish the game 4-for-5 with a double and a stolen base. Campana sprinted in and snagged Pennington’s line drive, sending us into extra innings.
The A’s again threatened in the 10th. With one out, Wes Timmons walked and stole second. Gomes walked as well. Cespedes came up to the plate, the winning run in scoring position, but he ground into a double play, ending the game in a 5-5 tie.
It’s hard to judge a team by how well it plays in the spring, and it’s even harder to extrapolate to the season based on a small number of games. Nonetheless, it seems that the A’s have a bit of work to do before opening the season in Japan on March 28. Some of their pitchers could use some adjustments, and they could shore up the defense all around. I doubt Tuesday was a typical game for Jemile Weeks, who committed two fielding errors and went 0-for-4 at the plate. Coco Crisp also performed disappointingly, with the same 0-for-4 stat and a few poor throws in from the outfield. Time will tell whether Cespedes, who has a .200 average this spring, was worth his contract, and whether the pitcher trades were the right move. The front office’s priority seems to be to leave the city, and they are prepping to have a winning team once the new stadium opens. Until then, this young lineup will do its best to ignore the distractions and win.