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Can Things Only Get Better?

Normally, I'm a huge optimist when it comes to sports. I like to believe that when things look bleak, then there is no where else to go but up. When the A's lose a key game in heartbreaking fashion, my first instinct is to say, "Oh well, at least we have a game tomorrow." (OK, maybe second instinct after I get done throwing chairs, etc.)

So when looking at April and the A's performance in that month, several things stand out:

  • First, the A's batting average and OBP for the month. The team was in last place in the AL in team batting average at a paltry .232, and the OBP for the month winds up 23rd in the majors with a .316 OBP. The good news is that the Angels were 29th at .302. Nearly the entire roster had a bad April, with the exception of Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez. Swisher nearly tied the A's franchise mark for home runs in April with 10 (McGwire had 11 in 1997) and Chavez not only came through repeatedly, but he did it in key situations. Outside of Chavez and Swisher, the offense can only get better from here. I shiver to think what would've happened had Chavy not gotten off to such a great start. There are good signs that DJ has finally come around and some of the other guys seem to be picking it up as well. We'll see if it continues into Anaheim tonight. By the way, I just realized a few things about where Nick Swisher's rookie season is in A's lore. Do you know that Swisher had the most home runs by an A's switch hitter since Ruben Sierra's back-to-back 93-94 seasons? He also had the fourth-most doubles in an A's rookie season and the fifth-most home runs in an Oakland A's rookie year.
  • The A's vaunted starting pitching staff, you know the one that had us all worked up in the offseason thinking it could be the best in the AL, if not the entire majors? Well, April wasn't kind of our young guys. The team's starters compiled a 5.60 ERA which is 24th in the majors. Opposition teams were getting on-base at a .342 clip, which was good for 19th in the majors. Most would argue that it can only get better from here, right? I'm not sure. You're going to have someone replacing Rich Harden who will not be nearly as good as Harden (one of the reasons I said the A's can't lose Rich for any extended period of time is that the dropoff in talent from Harden to anyone else is great). There's a good chance that whoever might be replacing Loaiza in the rotation for now will be better than what Loaiza was providing every fifth day. But you have to think that Haren's, Zito's and probably Smokin' Joe's ERAs will all come down in May. Haren especially given his strikeout to walk ratio (6.75 which is about double what he normally does). I just get nervous heading in May considering the 2005 May this team had. Especially with King Richard on the DL.
  • The significant strength of this team right now is the bullpen. It has the sixth best ERA in all of baseball right now at 3.03. One area of concern is the on-base against. The A's bullpen is allowing a .350 OBP against right now. That's 20th in MLB. They need to turn that around or those runners are going to start to come in to score. The problem here is Harden's injury and Loaiza's missing velocity. Billy Beane, David Forst and Ken Macha are having the biggest arms summit since Reagan-Gorbachev today in Anaheim to figure out how to distribute the arms. I still think Loaiza needs a trip to the DL to get some rest and then some rehab starts in Sacto to build the velocity back up. I anticipate Halsey with his 1.42 ERA and 0.95 WHIP to come out of the pen to replace Harden. As for Loaiza, it could either be Chad Gaudin or Randy Keisler from the River Cats. If I'm the A's, I don't want to weaken the pen too much by pulling Saarloos, who has shown that he can be the Duke of 2005 already in that he can close, go long or set up. Plus, Saarloos has shown the ability to get a much needed ground ball in key situations, and that is an invaluable asset coming out of the pen. You might ask, why not Juan Dominguez and/or Dan Meyer? Because Dominguez has been roughed up several times at Sacramento and Meyer is still getting both velocity and arm angle issues worked out. Keisler is leading the Sacramento staff in strikeouts with 20 and opponents are only hitting .256 off of him. The pen needs Huston Street to get healthy and get healthy soon to add to the depth that could be depleted by choosing Halsey to take over as a starter. The other thing that leads me to believe that Halsey could be taking over is that the A's called up Ron Flores who is a lefty. That makes the pen a little crowded.
The key is, will the offense wake up and will Haren, Zito and Blanton be able to carry the staff in Harden's absence? Judging by the fact that Haren is still making people miss, Zito's worst career month for ERA is April (4.89 prior to this season -no other month is over 4.00) and Blanton also has to improve, I think it's possible. Will the bullpen be able to survive a tough stretch when maybe two of the starters aren't putting in enough innings regularly? Well, they survived a bad month from the starters in April.

And will Bradley and Crosby remain healthy? The optimist in me says yes. It's the realist who is somewhat frightened of this calendar turn to May. I think of May 2005 and I literally get the shakes. OK, enough of that, onto my happy place.