I'm not writing with blinders or rose-colored glasses on when I say this: The season has been a big success so far. And here's why:
If I had told you the Angels were going to have the pitching staff they do and 5-6 guys hitting over .300, I don't expect you would think that we would contend with them. And, of course, how they perform is out of Beane's and the A's control, right?
Now let's look at us. Could you possibly argue that the A's were really going to win 90-95 games this year? They lost Zito and Thomas, and then had to depend on healthy years from typically unhealthy players (Bradley, Harden) plus hope for improvement and health from just about everyone else (Chavez, Crosby, Johnson, Swisher, Kendall, Ellis, and the pitchers.) That wasn't a realistic expectation. And, obviously, it hasn't happened. And we shouldn't go into a season thinking it will happen. Crosby is who he is, not who people thought he would be. Chavy will never be a big star. Swisher is great, but not MVP caliber yet. It would be easy to go on.
So why, then, is this a good season so far?
Well, my hopes for this year were that the A's would be competitive—they have been—and, more importantly, that they'd see reason to have hope for the years that follow. And that's exactly what's happened. Look at the positives from this year (the ones that we can carry into next season):
- Dan Haren as a #1 starter. Even if Haren regresses a bit, could anyone have expected this performance? (Actually, I think Nico was touting Haren as progressing to be a clear and dominant #1 last year.)
- Joe Blanton as a frontline starter. Blanton has been the biggest pitching surprise of the season to me. For those of us who have watched his games, we know that he has pitched better than his very fine ERA. The improvement in Blanton's key peripherals has been huge. None of us who were hoping for the trade to the Mets are any longer wanting that deal.
- Chad Gaudin's emergence as a starter. We might have hoped for this. Some of us may have been promoting it. But we didn't have any reason to expect it. Injuries led to it, and the result has been a pitcher who solidifies our rotation for the future.
- Travis Buck. The injuries worry me a little; after all, I'm an A's fan. But Buck's performance this year projects to a very bright future and a second young outfielder to go with Swisher. That's very good news. Did we really expect a viable rookie of the year candidate this year?
- Jack Cust. This is beyond good. If Cust is the next Matt Stairs or better, that is an incredibly fortunate development for the A's. A cost-controlled slugging DH means the A's can shift resources once dedicated to the next Thomas or Piazza to a different area of need. Over and above all that, Cust is just incredibly fun to watch hit—and, because of his career path, to root for.
- Casilla, Suzuki, and Barton. Three players we feel better about now than before the season. I'm aware of small sample size. But I'd rather that Casilla pitch like he has and Suzuki hit like he has than the opposite. Both have done very well so far, and obviously Casilla's been invaluable since he's been up. As for Barton, his June put to rest some burgeoning fears on this site, it seems.
In sum, then, because of the above I feel much better about the future than I felt before this season. So regardless of how this season ends, if it simply continues as it has so far, for me it will have been a good year.