The pennant run is in full-swing and Susan Slusser took time from her schedule today to answer some questions from yours truly about the A's playoff drive.
Here is our conversation as the A's attempt to push closer to the playoffs:
Blez: So, let's start with the most important question. Is this team going to make the playoffs?
Susan Slusser: You want a flat-out answer? It's such a tough call, I think I'll have to hedge: They will make the playoffs if they get some decent offense on a consistent basis. And I'll go a step further: If they make the playoffs, they'll finally advance to the ALCS. I think they'd be in very good shape in a postseason series, given their pitching and defense.
If they stay in this weird 12 runs-no runs rut, they won't be in.
Blez: I know the A's are notorious about injury disclosure, but how long do you think this team will have to deal without Crosby and Harden?
Slusser: I think they're cautious with their estimates, so when the head trainer states firmly that Crosby will be back before the end of the season, it's unusual enough so I believe it to be the case. It sounds as if when he does come back, it will be a pain-management issue, and as you know, he was ready to play that night in Anaheim before they scratched him. If it's a matter of pain, I'd have to think he'd play. How effective he'd be if it is still sore, I don't know, but Crosby seems to be a tough kid. Here's betting he's back with a week or so to go.
Harden is more unclear. I think everyone wants to be optimistic but they definitely don't want to rush him and have any setback, because then he'd really be done for the season. This isn't a good injury for a pitcher - Omar Olivares missed three months with a strained lat in 2000, I think it was. I still think that Harden will be back before the end of the season, but he will have missed at least three starts by then and there's no place to send him to really get him some good rehab work - he'll be working back into shape in big-league games during the stretch run, which is a little risky. And that's the best case scenario.
Blez: How much is it going to hurt the team to deal without those two and whose absence hurts them the most?
Slusser: Crosby, because the offense is so inconsistent without him while the starters have still been good, for the most part, without Harden. Joe Kennedy has really filled in well. If the A's make the postseason and both are still out, though (not very realistic - if both stay out all year, I don't see them making it) then Harden might be the bigger loss, because he could shut down a playoff opponent from the get-go and that could potentially carry over to the next game or games.
Blez: Who has been the team MVP?
Slusser: Super tough question. It's been different guys at different times. Kotsay kept them alive when they were bad early, Crosby gave them that lift in June and then cooled off, and all four of the rookies have been such huge factors that it's tough to even single any of them out. Then there's Mark Ellis - what an amazing year for someone who was told he might never play again. Thankfully, you've given me a pitching option below, I see, so among the position players, I'm going to be boring and say Chavez: He's played in pain all year with his shoulder, he's the most talented guy in the team, and he's finally shown that he can be a team leader with his rant on the bus in D.C. If he had decent protection, he'd be right up there with some of the top names in the league, but he's doing it with no big threat behind him.
Blez: Who do you think has been the best pitcher?
Slusser: First easy question: Zito. For his leadership, his consistency, his nasty curve, that sweet new slider......Harden has the most ability, Blanton and Street have performed waaaay way above expectations and are major reasons for the team's success, but Zito has made all the other pitchers better and he's been great almost all year himself. Decent run support and he would have been an All-Star and a possible Cy Young candidate.
Blez: As a reporter, what is the hardest time in the season to get through?
Slusser: Texas in July, which is why I usually foist that trip off on my backups, and Detroit/KC type places in August. I'll tell ya, two three-city trips in less than a month is kind of a killer. Tough to really complain though - it's those Detroit/KC writers who have it rough late in the season......it's no fun to cover a team that's way out of it. Contending clubs make it so much easier and infinitely more interesting, and throw in the fact that this team is so great to deal with and I'd have to say, this group of beat writers is the envy of many in our business.
Blez: Who gave you the best quote of the season so far?
Slusser: I think we were all pretty partial to Byrnes, "I'm my own biggest fan" speech this spring (followed by Crosby's reply: "You're beautiful, man.")
Blez: What has been the highlight of the season?
Slusser: That roll through June and July was extraordinary - coming back from 15-games under .500, are you kidding me? During one stretch they were just out of their minds. I think that was even more amazing than the 20-game winning streak. To pick out one game specifically - I have to say Kendall ending that game at Texas diving face-first into a pair of spikes, and I wasn't even at that game (Texas in July).
Blez: Has there been a clubhouse highlight that you can share (that won't get you in trouble with the players)?
Slusser: Most of the stuff I see that won't get me in trouble winds up in print - the obvious one so far is Bobby Kielty dressed up as Ronald McDonald. Priceless. I have a feeling the rookie hazing might top that, though. Huston Street is going to have to hope there are no cameras around.
Blez: In some ways, do you feel like the season has been a success regardless of what happens from here considering that no one expected this team to be competitive after their dismal May?
Slusser: I think this has been an incredible season. No matter what else happens. Just incredible.
Blez: What do you think is the real A's team, the one that went 40-10 or the one in May? The simple answer is to probably say somewhere in the middle, but do you think it's closer to one than the other?
Slusser: I've actually said all year, including this spring, that they'd be in contention right down to the end. (Unless you asked me in May, which I hope you didn't.) With the young pitching coming so fast, I think they're closer to very good than very bad, obviously, but no team is really a 40-10 team.
Blez: And finally, I'd be negligent if I didn't ask this, but have you worn your AN tee-shirt that mentions a certain Huston Street body part? Thank you for attending. I know AN really appreciated you imparting your wisdom.
Slusser: Much as I love that shirt, I don't think either my husband or my editor would want me seen in it. So I'll just look at it every now and then and think of all you nice AN folks and your interesting obsessions.
Blez: Thanks so much for your time, Susan. AN really appreciates it.