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1-2 Punch -- I Mean Rickey & Skaalen -- Has A's Playing The Game Right

Eric Chavez tries desperately to halt a runaway train, but Rajai says, "No, I'm thinking two all the way!"
Eric Chavez tries desperately to halt a runaway train, but Rajai says, "No, I'm thinking two all the way!"

Noticeable in the A's early season success has been the 1-2 punch of Rajai Davis and Daric Barton. Rajai has been a havoc-wreaking machine, turning sharp singles up the middle into doubles, inducing balks, and leading the "first-to-third brigade" that even slower runners, like Barton and Ellis, have joined. Barton has combined patience with a line drive stroke to all fields, watching balls and punishing strikes.

Of course it's the players who have to do the right things, and one can never know how much credit goes to the behind the scenes work of coaches, but as the A's are running the bases and hitting the ball "smarter" than they have before, I wonder about the positive influences of baserunning mentor Rickey Henderson and hitting coach Jim Skaalan.

I really like the things both these guys have said about the crafts they are teaching, and I am seeing their preachings show up in the games.

Rickey has talked about how he is not interested in teaching "base-stealing" so much as better baserunning techniques, and the A's strength, 5 games in, has been that they don't remind you so much of Rickey -- stealing early and often -- as they appear to know how to push the envelope on the bases in general in a way that is aggressive but not foolhardy.

Skaalan has preached, from the time he joined the A's last season, the importance of using the whole field as a way to be more dynamic as a hitter, harder to defend, to see pitches longer, and so on. Note that this doesn't mean "hit the other way," it means pull the ball when it's appropriate but embrace the opposite field as an opportunity, rather than playing into pitchers' and defenses' hands by narrowing your "happy zone." The A's have worked with Pennington on turning better on inside pitches, and we've seen the results in his HR last night as well as numerous extra base hits last August and September. Yet players like Sweeney and Barton, whose long-term success will lie in their ability to use let and left-center field, are also shown and encouraged to use the outside corner to their advantage. It's not about "pulling" or "going the other way" being better or worse; it's about making it as difficult as possible for the other team to pitch, and defend, you given your skill set.

Much of this has shown up in the stat sheet, in the form of bases gained and hits earned. Some of it won't. When Rajai Davis singled up the middle, and exploded into 2B ahead of the throw by a stunned Torii Hunter, the telecast panned to the A's dugout. Every player was standing, many on the top step of the dugout, clapping, grinning, so into the moment. This is not a lifeless team. This is a team that is taking the game by the horns, taking it to the other team, loving every minute of it, and playing .800 ball.

As SeanR put it so well in yesterday's recap:

Something the stats overlook is how good things seem to happen when your team hustles. Rajai taking the extra base was one thing, but Barton doing it was awesome. Stuff like that is a good way to shock people with how good you are – kind of like the Angels have been doing.

This has really been a great week of baseball. It sounds like overreacting to a 5 game small sample size, but the A’s are winning the right way, too.

It won't all last, but if the A's continue to control the tempo on the bases and approach pitches like the count is 3-1 and the whole field is open to them, this team, already outfitted with solid pitching and defense, can contend -- partly because they don't know any better, and why should they?