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Five Quick Questions - Slusser

This week's edition of Five Quick Questions features San Francisco Chronicle Athletics beat writer Susan Slusser.'s Mychael Urban and the Oakland Tribune's Josh Suchon performed FQQ duty for the past two weeks.

Unfortunately, Slusser gets the struggling A's this week, but like a trooper she soldiered through.

1. Obviously, the team is struggling mightily. Do you think the loss of their best offensive player is finally just catching back up to them? Or is it just that they are playing more challenging opponents like Chicago, St. Louis and Anaheim? What's your feeling from watching them on a nightly basis?

Most of this trip, the problem has been the bullpen, and there were inklings even during the spring that relief could be an area of concern, especially because Arthur Rhodes hadn't closed before. I think it's one of those contagious things, like good or bad hitting - this bullpen seems to all be good or (more often) all bad at once. The A's could be even on this trip had they had better performances out of the pen. That said, they've also had a slight dip offensively on the trip, but not enough to suggest that the Chavez factor is playing a major part. They've struggled mostly (mostly) against good pitchers. And the good news is that they're that much closer to getting Chavez back, perhaps two and a half or three weeks.

2. Rumors are rampant online that the A's are close to various deals. Beltran, Mota and a few other names have been bandied about. From your daily contact with your inside sources, what do you think Billy Beane is looking for and which is his first priority? Bullpen? Offense? What are some of the names and possibilities you're hearing?

I'm sure Beane would have loved to get Mota, whose name I have heard far more often than anyone else. I'm not sure there's anyone currently available who absolutely blows the A's away. Dotel was a possibility, but that deal would absolutely never happen if Blanton is one of the requests, as has been suggested. Knowing Beane, the A's will do something creative and something with some real impact, not just a touch-up. He said the other day he still doesn't know what that move is, but he knows the need is more urgent than waiting for the deadline.

3. Have you had a conversation with Beane about why the Arthur Rhodes-as-a-closer experiment has gone so horribly awry? Granted, Beane can't control player performance on the field, but he seemed so convinced this offseason that Rhodes could do the job (as many of us were). I'm just curious why he thinks Arthur has struggled so much in that role.

Beane isn't going to publicly criticize a player currently on the roster; he would only discuss short-comings off the record. And to be entirely fair to Beane, he has said since Rhodes was signed that it might be an experiment that didn't work out, and if so, the A's would then have an experienced left-handed set-up man. By the time the A's lost out on Foulke, there just weren't other options around (LaTroy Hawkins, for instance). This was a risk, and the A's knew it all along. I wouldn't say Beane was ever totally convinced it would work.

4. What, if any, player has been a nice surprise for the A's this season, in your estimation? Who has been the biggest disappointment? My guess is that Rhodes would be in the mix here.

Dye's return to something closer to his old form was very welcome, naturally, and Miller has worked out pretty well. Duchscherer is also a candidate for most pleasant surprise. But I'd have to say Scutaro first and foremost, considering he was an after-thought when spring training began and has wound up being more than decent in an everyday role. He's solid, and that's what this team needed with the loss of Ellis.

5. What's your take on the team's confidence level in reaching the postseason at this point? Is the atmosphere in the clubhouse still positive during these regular downswings? I know that Ken Macha has talked about keeping an even keel in the clubhouse, but lots of fans feel like the occasional motivational tantrum wouldn't be the worst thing for this bunch.

I'd love to see a tantrum or two, too, for the sheer entertainment value, but that's just not Macha's style, and in terms of motivation, I'm not sure it's necessary. The morale seems pretty upbeat, and the team doesn't lack for motivation. If there is a bit of a rift between the starters and the bullpen, as Arthur Rhodes suggested to CBS Sportsline, I don't think it's drastic. The relievers know they haven't been effective lately, and the A's remain one of the closer-knit teams I've seen, as they have been for the past several years. Getting back home and, in a few weeks, getting Chavez back, will take care of a lot of ills. If Beane can swing a new closer, a surefire saves guy, that will go a long way, too.

Thank you, Susan. We here in AN greatly appreciate your contribution.