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The Understudy

Watching the A’s lately I can’t help but think of one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes when Bette Midler is starring in Rochelle Rochelle on Broadway and George Costanza takes her out in a softball game at home plate. I feel like we’ve been watching Bette’s understudy Gennice all season and I’m only now realizing it.

Don’t get me wrong, part of the reason that 2007 has been so fun so far is because these fill-ins have been exciting. A new wrinkle to watching the same old season. I mentioned how excited I was to see someone like Jack Cust get a chance. Someone like Chris Snelling get a chance. But there are only so many rabbits one can pull out of the hat. You can’t continue to lose pitchers like Harden, Loaiza, Street, Calero (we lost Kiko a while ago – he’s just now admitting to the issue) and Duchscherer and expect to remain in contention forever. The A’s, by Billy Beane’s own admission, live and die with their pitching. The offense just needs to score a minimal number of runs for this team to win if the pitching is going right. Problem is, that hasn’t been happening lately.

So while so many are focused on the shortcomings of the offense, I just think we’re starting to see what happens when the pitching starts to pitch as it probably should and not like the world beaters that they have been. I don’t think anyone would argue that Chad Gaudin, Joe Kennedy and Lenny DiNardo were all pitching above their heads. The team is now just feeling it. It’s like the audience is suddenly realizing that it isn’t the fabulous Miss Bette on stage.

On the other hand, Joe Blanton and Danny Haren have been mostly awesome this year. Haren had one of his worst outings yesterday and he only gave up three runs. I can't even think about where this team would be if Haren had been mortal and Blanton wasn't pitching like a man possessed.

What remains to be seen is whether or not the A’s pitching can regain its form. Can Gaudin get his early season magic back? Are DiNardo and Kennedy doomed to continue seeing their ERAs rise? Is the A’s bullpen going to continue to go nitro? No Calero, Street or Duchscherer? Casilla has been a revelation and Embree has mostly been lights out as a closer, but eventually someone is going to realize that the Trojan Horse is filled with people and none of them have Duke’s cutter, Calero’s slider or Street’s fastball.

The offense is a problem, but the offense was never going to be the reason this team won in 2007. The pitching was. And it seems to be slipping right now.

I leave you with some dialogue from that famous episode as we wait to see if Lenny DiNardo can stop the A's bleeding today:

Jerry: The Improv is playing "Rochelle Rochelle" The musical.

Kramer: Really? What is Bette Midler playing? Is she going to be there?

Jerry: She might be. She's the star of the show.

Kramer: Bette Midler is going to be in the park today? Yeeee. Jerry, don't tease me.

George: I didn't know you were such a Bette Midler fan.

Kramer: So maybe I'll go down there and watch, uh? She'll be there, maybe.

George: Gennice playing today?

Jerry: Yeah, maybe.

Kramer: Who's Gennice?

Jerry: That's the understudy. I'm dating her.

Kramer: Oh, uh, is this uh, Bette Midler's understudy?

Jerry: Yeah.

Kramer: Oh, understudies are a very shifty bunch. The substitute teachers of the theater world.