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Looking Ahead: What A Concept

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What a strange feeling to be at the end of an ALDS asking "What if we do...?" instead of "What if we had done...?" While the A's wait to see if they will next play the Tigers or will have to wait until tomorrow to find out who they play, here are a couple thoughts to chew on, one from the recent past and one for the "recent future":

Ken Macha

From where I'm sitting, Ken Macha really made all the right moves throughout the ALDS. Offensively, he let the A's stay true to their basic philosophy of working the count and not making extra outs (right down to letting Scutaro hit with Swisher at second with nobody out in Game 2), yet he also played opportunistic "don't sit around waiting" ball with the occasional hit-and-run (Kotsay, nearly to perfection in Game 2). With the pitching, I thought Macha was as close to perfect as you could hope.

Perhaps the toughest, and most controversial decision, was to leave Zito in to pitch the 8th inning of Game 1. I have no problem with that. Zito, for all his frustrating foibles, is the pitching staff's veteran leader, the go-to guy his own teammates want on the mound when it's all on the line. In Games 2 and 3, Macha gave Street the 9th but gave Duchscherer the quantity and high-leverage: Duke pitched twice as many innings and ran through the heart of the order. Great call, both times, to have Duke start the 7th and own the next 6 outs. I want my best guys deciding the games, pitching in the roles for which they are best suited. That happened, for every single one of the 81 outs the A's pitchers got. Pretty much the only decision I didn't agree with was batting Chavez 5th against Santana, and that's nit-picking to the nth degree. I have to give Macha an "A" for the series.

The ALCS Rotation

The A's have a difficult decision to make regarding the ALCS rotation. In a 7-game series, start with this: three pitchers can go twice each, while one pitcher can only go once. So you start with the question, "Who am I willing to throw just once?" And it's a strangely, but sweetly, difficult question? Zito is the one guy you know will get the nod early and often. Harden is the big unknown with a bigger upside. Haren has been giving up hits without striking many out, but has a terrific arm and LCS/WS experience. Loaiza has been the A's best pitcher since the All-Star Break, but has been inconsistent throughout his career. Each in his own way, Harden, Haren, and Loaiza present equal parts exclamation point and question mark.

Personally, I think Harden's upside is great enough that you should roll the dice and pitch him twice in the ALCS. A short-series is often decided by "that one guy" who makes a difference. Harden could be that guy. And I believe that Danny Haren has the arm and mental makeup to pitch a "winner-take-all" game. So if it were up to me, and it isn't, I'd throw Zito in games 1 and 5, Harden in games 2 and 6, Haren in games 3 and 7, and Loaiza in game 4. What would you do?