Josh Suchon covers the A's for the Oakland Tribune after being shackled with the Giants beat. He recently took time out of his schedule to answer some questions from yours truly on the ups and downs and in and outs of our Oakland A's.
Enjoy. By the way, since the A's have an off-day today I wanted to remind everyone that the due date for buying tickets for AN Day 3.0 is less than a week away. It's noon on Wednesday, May 3rd. Tickets are $31 each and you can buy them by paypaling the money to firstname.lastname@example.org. Details on the day are here. I also think I'm close to securing a very, very important key speaker, so make sure you don't miss it.
Without further ado, here's Mr. Suchon.
Blez: First of all, are you surprised with how the A's have kind of stumbled out of the gates...again?
Josh Suchon: I've seen it so many years, nothing really surprises me. Although after the 5-2 start, I thought this might be a year when they get off to a faster start. Of course, it depends on your definition of stumbling out of the gates. The A's were over .500 three of the last four Aprils. They have a 64-57 record in April since 2002 (before Wednesday's game). The slow start perception is based on a couple factors: one, the A's went 8-17 in April 2001; two, they've had so many 20-win months in the second half (usually beating up on a weak AL Central), those runaway months make the average months stand out.
Overall, I think it's hard for any team to have a breakout April. The 1984 Tigers and 2001 Mariners are two of the exceptions. Most teams are still finding themselves, trying out lineups, and finding their identity. Lately, the unbalanced schedule has produced a ton of games against the AL West in April, and those teams know each other so well, it's hard for anybody to put together a lengthy winning streak within the division. Another factor is all teams still have hope in April and haven't given up. By August, the front office of a sub-.500 team may have traded away a couple players, they might be trying out a bunch of younger guys, and the remaining veterans might be so used to losing they don't have the same focus as they do in April and May.
That said, I'm sure a lot of A's players, coaches, front office executives, and fans wish they could have an April like in 1988 (16-7), 1989 (14-5) or 1990 (13-7).
Blez: Do you think Esteban Loaiza is hiding an injury because his velocity is down and he's throwing batting practice pitches out there?
Suchon: If he was hiding an injury, it's out in the open now. If he was, it reminds me of Dan Meyer a year ago. It's natural for a pitcher who signs a big free-agent contract to try pitching through an injury or do too much. Heck, Loaiza knew since the fan asked him at FanFest, "what makes you worth all that money?" that the public questioned the logic of the signing. Fair or not, deserved or undeserved, Loaiza has a reputation of a guy who pitches his best in the final year of his contract. That perception won't change until Loaiza has a big year
in the first year of his contract.
The A's are in a tough spot here too. If he continues to struggle, how long do they keep him in the rotation with so many former starters in the bullpen? After giving him that much money, it would sure look bad if he was dumped into
the bullpen. This will be an interesting test of Billy Beane's patience.
Blez: Have you asked Street, Calero and Loaiza how they felt participating in the WBC impacted their preparations for the season?
Suchon: All three of them said before leaving for the WBC they started preparing earlier and it wouldn't be a problem. All three of them said just after returning from the WBC they didn't think it would be a problem. Calero's been fine. Street insists the WBC had nothing to do with his injury or his blown save. Ballplayers are creatures of habit, so anytime their routine is changed it can have an impact. But there's just no way to know for sure it's the reason for Loaiza's struggles.
Blez: Are you shocked to see Eric Chavez actually come out of the gates mashing the ball?
Suchon: I know it's a cliché, but it was just a matter of time. When you're as good as Chavez is, you're going to hit in every month eventually. He's tried a bunch of things over the years to cure his April woes. I thought it was brilliant by hitting coach Gerald Perry to have Chavez use his leg kick in spring training, which he hadn't done in the past. I really didn't understand why somebody would prepare for the season with a different swing than what they use in the regular season, but I'm just a sportswriter. A better lineup has helped.
Better focus has helped. The weight he added helped. But don't forget, he hit nine home runs in April 2002, so it's not like he was always bad in April. His extra slow start last year just exasperated the perception.
By the way, I wrote about this topic on my newspaper's new blog, so I will shamelessly promote it with a link right here --
Blez: What about Swisher?
Suchon: Eric Chavez said a few times last year that Swisher has as much talent as anybody on the team - and we know Chavez doesn't lie. He doesn't say things like that just to say them. So when you have a ton of talent, a month like this is possible. Young hitters are usually very streaky. They get hot and do a ton of damage. They can also get cold and go long stretches without a hit (see Dan Johnson). The key for Swisher is avoiding long slumps. He won't stay on his 50-homer pace, but there's a reason the A's fawned all over him before the draft and handed him a job last year in spring training.
Blez: What's your feeling on the rest of the lineup? Are you surprised it's been struggling as bad as it has?
Suchon: Actually, I knew it was going to suck. Just kidding.
If you'd told me Swisher and Chavez would have their current numbers right now, there's no way I'd have expected the offense to be last in the league in hitting. We were just talking to Ken Macha about this before the game. Macha was looking at the stats and saw how the staffs of Detroit (first), New York (second), LA (fourth), Texas (sixth) and Seattle (seventh) are all teams the A's have faced this year. Of course, as Mychael Urban brought up, maybe their ERAs are so low because they faced the A's.
This lineup was supposed to be so much better - and should be. It's still early and too many guys have track records of success for this to continue. But it still must be frustrating for Beane to see the lineup he put together struggle like this, and you just know the players are all pressing to try and single-handidly get the team out of its slump. That's just human nature, and
it usually doesn't work.
Blez: Is Frank Thomas going to come around or has he lost some bat speed and is on the decline?
Suchon: My theory is Thomas is either consciously, or subconsciously, trying to lift every pitch. He knows he won't beat out any infield singles. He knows he'll clog up the bases if he walks or singles. He even admitted in spring training, in one of those half-joking answers, that his best way to help the White Sox last year was to hit home runs - and that's what he did, sacrificing his batting average for an incredible HR-AB ratio. At this rate, he's going to have about 30 home runs and 70 RBIs. I'm sure most A's fans would take that, but getting his average from .162 (before Wednesday's game) to at least .250 wouldn't hurt.
Blez: The pitching staff has been kind of inconsistent so far. Is it too early to start saying overrated because many thought this was the best staff in the AL if not all the majors?
Suchon: Probably too early, but this is one of the dangers of getting too excited about a staff so young. Until everybody on the staff has a lengthy track record of success, it's tough proclaiming a rotation the best, or one of the top five. I still think this rotation will be better than they are pitching right now, but the league knows just as much about them as they know about the league.
Just as I type this, Rich Harden was removed from the game after trying to bare hand a comebacker, then walking the next batter. Obviously, if Harden is out for a short or extended amount of time, that's bad.
Blez: Any funny stories from the clubhouse?
Suchon: Mark Kotsay has taken over as the loudest guy. He's pretty good at changing the lyrics of a song getting played in the clubhouse. His revised words to Creed's "Arms Wide Open" was pretty good a few days ago. He was screaming pretty loud during the legendary fight scene in the movie, "Gladiator" that was playing this morning in the clubhouse. Who says ballplayers need greenies to get fired up for a day game after a night game?
Another funny story was on the last home stand. Somebody had a huge cardboard cutout of Barry Zito's face. It was balanced against the tarp and the guys took turns rifling throws at it. Bobby Crosby's landed directly between his
eyes and made a hole. A couple more throws busted it pretty quickly.
Blez: What have Thomas and Bradley been like as a team influence from what you've seen?
Suchon: To me, it's amazing to see how much Bradley and Nick Swisher have bonded. On the surface, you wouldn't think they have anything in common. They come from completely different backgrounds. Their handshakes after home runs are hilarious. Bradley is usually Mr. Serious Game Face, but I see him cracking up all the time when he's around Swisher.
On the other end, Swisher follows around Thomas like a puppy dog sometimes. He's always picking Thomas' brain and learning whatever he can. They've both fit in very well, very easily, just as the A's thought they would.
Blez: How long do you think until the team kind of "wakes up"?
Suchon: Nothing like a series against the Royals to wake a team up. But knowing the A's, it will be sometime in June. It's a tough schedule in May - Angels, Indians, Toronto, Yankees, Giants and White Sox. The AL is so competitive this year, I think it will be tough for any team to get on a serious roll and win 20 games in a month. But overall, as long as the Angels aren't running away with the division, the way Seattle did in 2001, it's no time to panic.
Blez: Thanks for your time today, Josh.