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Second Half Run?

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I've already written about this in an FSN Bay Area column, but it's hard for me to believe that the team that has become known for second half excellence will be able to execute again this year.

Now before everyone accuses AN of becoming a premature mausoleum for 2007 given the mood around here lately, I want to reiterate that I believe that it could still happen, but only if certain things break perfectly. First and foremost, the team needs to get healthy and there are signs that it could be happening. Kiko Calero is back. Huston Street will soon return and suddenly the bullpen looks at least four quality pitchers deep. You're no longer going to have to worry about Ron Flores or Colby Lewis in at crucial times unless the other pitchers have been taxed.

Travis Buck should be returning any day now and hopefully he will remain healthy for more than a couple games at a time. Esteban Loaiza should be returning at the end of the month and in case people have forgotten, Loaiza set an Oakland record last year with the second best single month in A's history in August. I don't exactly expect him to be that good, but he should give the A's the flexibility to remove DiNardo or Kennedy from the rotation and unlike others, I expect Loaiza to be an upgrade over both of those pitchers.

But the biggest problem has been the offense. The only team to score fewer runs than the A's in the American League is the Chicago White Sox and we all know that Kenny Williams has his fingers on the sell buzzer as I write this. I mean he and Omar Minaya couldn't have been involved in a more intimate conversation during the Futures game if they were on Melrose Place.

Will the offense get better? That's a tough one. A healthy Travis Buck does a lot to upgrade things. If Nick Swisher gets hot again and Jack Cust continues to have "three true outcomes", then the A's could conceivably score enough runs to win a lot of games. The bullpen being stronger from top to bottom would help quite a bit because maybe Geren doesn't hesitate to pull a starter if he looks down there and sees an uninjured Kiko Calero or Santiago Casilla warming up. Suddenly some of those miniscule 2-1 leads don't turn into 3-2 losses.

I'm not bullish on all of this taking place. We still have a shortstop who doesn't understand how to stop screwing himself into the ground on his swings. We have a third baseman who, while he's been supplying power, hasn't exactly brought a lot of consistency to his offense. And if you believe some of the rumors, we may no longer have a DJ scratching out hits at first base. We also have a catcher who seems to be able to will our pitchers to excellent outings but can't break a stationary pinata with a sledgehammer. So the offense will continue to be maddening. It'll mostly be up to the pitching if the A's can climb back into this thing. Whether or not that comes to fruition, we'll have to see.

The one thing is, and I think I may be in the tiny minority on AN with this one, I've really enjoyed watching this team this year. Possibly more than any other year except last year. I love some of the stories this year. Jack Cust has quickly become a favorite of mine. I love the way the guys swings. And Travis Buck has also quickly wormed his way into my green and gold heart. I love his approach at the plate as well. You can tell that pitchers are trying desperately to find holes in his swing and he keeps showing that if they're there, they haven't been easy to find. And Gaudin, Blanton, Casilla and Haren have been a joy to watch. I love seeing Big Joe become a much better big leaguer. Casilla finally got the chance and is excelling as a pitcher. Remember, this guy used to throw 96-97 in the minors. He's actually figured out how to pitch. It's also great seeing Gaudin get over his free pass issue to become one of the best starters in the AL this year. And what more can be said about Danny Boy? If anyone should earn a free pass from AN criticism for a year, it's Haren.

So even if the A's don't go on that patented second half run, I'll still be watching. Will you?