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Five Reasons The A’s Will Be Better Than You Thought In 2008

I’m feeling more optimistic about the A’s 2008 season than most fans, critics, and pundits are, and 31.84% of that is due to a condition called STPS (Spring Training Pollyanna Syndrome). But 68.16% of it is due to what I see when look at the roster and what I hear when I listen to the games. Here’s why I think the A’s, as currently constituted – which means Rich Harden and Bobby Crosby are healthy, Justin Duchscherer is recovered, Chad Gaudin is expected to be ok come mid-April, and Eric Chavez is in recovery mode with hope but no promises – can aim for a plus .500 season and a 2005-esque run at the division:

1. With Harden’s pristine health (until further notice), Gaudin’s raw stuff and increasing maturity/confidence, and with Duchscherer’s underrated “starter’s arsenal” of fastball, cutter, curve, occasional changeup, and pinpoint control/command, I think the “injured trio,” if basically healthy, will combine with Blanton to give the A’s a far better rotation than anyone really expected. Granted, there is ample potential for health to get in the way, but I believe that even post-Haren and pre-Gio-Cahill-Simmons-Fautino-Anderson, the starting pitching talent is there. Specifically, I have always believed in Duchscherer’s ability to perform as a quality #3 starter, and it appears we will finally find out.

2. I believe the A’s brass has finally embraced that a “take-and-rake, get deep into counts, don’t give up outs” offensive approach, and a “take calculated risks being aggressive on the bases, take it to the other team instead of always laying back, and make productive outs when it can lead to runs” offensive approach are not mutually exclusive. There is room for both, even if the first approach is the one you favor the lion’s share of the time. I think the A’s resistance to being creative, taking risks, and being unpredictable has cost them in recent years, when they simply haven’t had the talent to lay back and score a lot with a single basic approach. I know the A’s always talk a lot about baserunning, and being more aggressive and creative, in Spring Training, but I feel this year is different – that there has been a shift in philosophy from a front office that, to its credit, is always looking to avoid getting stuck in the “but we’ve always done it this way” rut. I think the A’s will score more runs than expected and that the increased emphasis on aggressiveness, creativity, and execution will be part of the reason why.

3. Here’s a shocker coming from one of AN’s oldest and most consistent Crosby-non-believers: I think Crosby will finally have his “breakout year” by way of realizing it helps to look at the pitch with both eyes and to shorten your swing a tad. Now don’t get me wrong: My definition of a Crosby “breakout year” might be different from yours. I could see him hitting .255/.335/.410 with excellent defense, good health, and an annoying penchant for overswinging at just the wrong times – and while that might not constitute the “breakout year” we had once hoped for it would make Crosby an asset instead of a liability. If it’s ever going to happen, I think it will happen in 2008.

4. For the A’s to contend, they would just have to hang in there (e.g., play .500 ball) until July 1st, because as in 2005, as with most young teams, the club is likely only to get better as the year progresses. It’s likely that both Gonzos, Carlos and Gio, will start the season in Sacramento and will prove to be too good for AAA competition by the end of June. They will be ready, willing, and able to give the A’s any needed boost to the lineup or rotation, as July 1st hits and service time is not compromised by a promotion to the big league club. Add those “high upside” options to the continued progress of Buck, Barton, and Suzuki – none of whom have even a full season of major league experience under his belt – and Oakland has a chance to come together and take off after the All-Star Break.

5. The bullpen is going to be a legitimate strength, making the rotation better by shortening games as necessary. The depth is impressive: Along with Street and Embree, Foulke is a wild-card but Andrew Brown looks awfully solid, Casilla, Blevins, and Devine all have plus-arms to choose from, and Henry Rodriguez has fast-track written all over him – move over, K-Rod, because H-Rod is on the way!

So I’m putting myself out there and calling for 86 wins in 2008’s “rebuilding year”. Until Harden’s first owie, anyway.