After 130 games in this campaign, the A's record lies at an even 65-65.
.500 - a mark the team has seemingly been unable to shake for the majority of the year, settling just below or just above the mark, but not too far. And every time the team seems to be getting into a groove, they fall back down to earth with a thud, only to rise back up and tease us again.
For the diehards among us, this can be infuriating. We can be eternal optimists, or darkly, wish the team would just commit to losing so we could get better draft position.
But here's the truth, and it's not really that bad. We are a .500 team, on the upswing from some miserable seasons, and have got a core group of players that could take us well beyond where we are now, just like we saw 23 years ago.
The 1987 Oakland Athletics and 2010 Oakland Athletics are no doubt very different in terms of their strengths. They featured a rookie Mark McGwire (and his 49 HR, 118 RBI) as well as Jose Canseco's sophomore campaign (with 31 HR, 113 RBI), supported by 22 HR from Mike Davis, 19 HR from Carney Lansford and 16 HR from Terry Steinbach.
On the basepaths, Lansford swiped 27 bases, with Alfredo Griffin pilfering 26, Davis 19 and Canseco 15 (with only 3 caught stealing!).
So the 1987 squad was entertaining on offense, much more than our current roster.
Conversely, the team's pitching staff was nothing to write home about. Only Dave Stewart had a sub-4.00 ERA among the starters (in a home run happy year for the majors), and he gained a 20-13 record. Current pitching coach Curt Young followed with a 13-7 mark, and the rest of the hurlers were unimpressive, as closer Dennis Eckersley started to find his groove with a teasingly low 16 saves on the season.
At the end of the year, the batting heavy, pitching light squad finished 81 and 81. .500. From my memory, the final record was quite disappointing. The A's had expected more with a Canseco and McGwire tandem, but it was just a five win improvement from 1986's 76-86 mark, the fifth straight losing season after winning the split season division championship in 1981.
The 2010 A's squad comes similarly after three straight losing campaigns of 76 wins, 75 wins and last year's 75-87 mark. If the team finishes the year at .500, it would be a six game improvement over 2009, and similarly, feel like a disappointment, not because of amazing power and a string of Rookies of the Year, but instead, because of a lights-out youthful pitching staff. Now, our strength comes from the mound.
In 1988, the A's were off the charts amazing through the regular season, with a dominant 104 wins, a 23 game improvement over 1987. So what changed? Canseco was a monster, yes, but McGwire actually played worse than 1987, and the arrival of Dave Henderson (24 HR, 94 RBI) simply replaced Mike Davis. Lansford regressed in the power department from 18 to 7, and only Dave Parker was the other to break double digit homers with 12, as Steinbach fell to 9.
What changed was the arrival of Bob Welch and Storm Davis, who went 17-9 and 16-7 respectively, and the blossoming of Eckersley who jumped to 45 saves, as part of a meticulous bullpen that flourished under Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan with Gene Nelson, Rick Honeycutt, Eric Plunk and Greg Cadaret being incredible. Walt Weiss may have picked up the A's third Rookie of the Year award in a row, but he wasn't a 23-game difference. What was a difference was the improvement seen by Canseco, and the maturation of the starters and bullpen.
Here in 2010, we see amazing talent on the mound - which should be as strong, if not even better in 2011. The weakness for us is at the plate. If Carter or Taylor make their way onto the roster in 2011, and we see continued improvement from Daric Barton, Coco Crisp and others, we could see this team blossom.
Will 2011 see 100+ wins? Probably not. We don't (allegedly) have the benefit of steroids. But if you see yourself getting frustrated by our lackluster 65-65 mark, think back to recent baseball history and wonder how you would feel if you got to see a core team of players with solid talent grow together from 1986 and '87 to the dynasty of the late '80s and early 90's, and what it would be like to be part of that again.
23 years ago. 23 wins to improve. It's no coincidence. :)