The A's are off to a slow start that is not only disappointing to see in the standings, but is frankly also painful to watch. I am not reminded of 2001, when the team started 8-18 and was shaken up in late May. That team was extremely talented, had Giambi, Tejada, and Chavez in the middle of its lineup, and was coming off a division winning season.
Remember 2005, though? That team, like these A's, could not hit early in the season despite having a lineup that, on paper, looked to be "ok" -- not great, mind you, but not terrible. It also had young pitchers like Joe Blanton and Danny Haren who, after taking their rookie lumps, combined inexperience with promise. It was a young but talented rotation backed by what looked to be a kind of middling offense.
And the A's couldn't buy a run. I remember where things bottomed out, in late May: There were two outs in the 9th inning and the A's were on the verge of losing yet another low-scoring one-run game, burying them yet deeper in the AL West. And then Jason Kendall singled to tie it. And then the A's won it. And then they pretty much stopped losing for two months, playing .800 ball, dominating interleague play rather dramatically, and turning a 17-32 start into a tight division race.
That season peaked with the "sulk off" and a brief share of first place, before the Angels pulled a couple games ahead again and the season went down to the wire -- and ultimately the A's had to settle for "runner up" in the Mr. AL West Pageant. But at least it was an exciting season -- or should I say an exciting 2/3 of a season, because April and May were decidedly not exciting.
No two seasons are alike, and I highly doubt the A's will play .800 ball for any two month stretch of 2011. But can you remember what it felt like watching every hitter underperform, to watch every excellent starting pitching effort get wasted, to watch tight game after tight game sans the key hit needed to get the team over the hump? It's all too familiar. I didn't enjoy it then, and I don't enjoy it now.
However, the next seven games -- three at the Angels followed by four at home against Texas -- are going to tell us a lot. If the A's were to lose two of three to the Angels and then three of four to the Rangers, they would emerge solidly under .500 and 5-6 games back of both teams. That's a real hole to climb out of. In contrast, if the A's were to win two of three from the Angels and then take three of four from Texas, they would emerge over .500 and just 1-2 games back of the teams they are chasing. This isn't just a good time to finally get hot -- it's an essential time.