Spring training is meaningless and baseball is boring. This is why we ignore or dismiss the statistics and search in vain for ways to improve or "fix" the game. Or maybe we talk about our eyesore of a stadium or get excited about a pitcher with TWO arms! Zito is back. Plus, Moneyball.
Well, color me in fifty shades of dismay.
Let me apologize. I’m still recovering from the half-season binge of 2014, and this hair-of-the-dog hangover cure that is Oakland Athletics spring training has me filled with anxiety and doubt. The A’s broke my heart last year. Only the utter despair of the second half of the season could match the euphoria of the first. In a game ruled by regression to the mean and colored by superstition, I should have either seen it coming or feared its arrival. Boy, how we regressed. And, oh, how mean it was. On top of that, we have not had much recent post-season success . In fact, the last time we won it all, the world literally trembled in shock.
But these Athletics are nowhere near the same team as last year. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps not. We have grown accustomed to beloved players leaving and to new players become beloved. So, to the 27 new players from 9 different teams, we embrace you with open arms. But we would advise you not to spend too much time house-hunting in Oakland.
With that, we turn to today’s game versus the Cincinnati Reds. Two teams who, perhaps appropriately, have not been back to the World Series since they played one another in 1990. The less said about that the better. The Reds, too, are coming off a disappointing season, though for very different reasons. Beset by injuries and off-years by their core players, the Reds are hoping for rebounds and returns from injury. The consensus seems to be that they will be in the bottom of the standings.
This lineup has a look that, outside of Reddick’s absence, seems true to how we will start the season. To quickly touch on some of the new faces:
Zobrist: obviously, we’re hoping for a return to form from years past. He is a versatile player and a good defender who can draw walks and has skill on the basepath.
Butler: it’s no secret his power has dropped off recently, but he is another player who has shown production in the past. Are you sensing a recurring theme here?
Lawrie: big cleats to fill, obviously. No one expects him to contribute at the level of Donaldson, one of the best third baseman in the league, and he has been plagued by injuries. We remain hopeful he will bring more than pizza to crying A’s fans this year.
Semien: young player, local kid. We could really use some stability and reliability at short. Is he the guy? He only hit 10 doubles last season for the Sox, but I’m confident that he will lead the league in double entendres if nothing else.
Phegley: since Vogt is DHing today, he will get action behind the plate. He has an arm, something we lacked last year, and has been having a good spring.
Jesse Hahn: this spring has not been statistically kind to him but Melvin speaks highly of his pitching and we hope his upward trajectory continues. He seemed to do well in the expanse of Petco and should be right at home in cavernous O.Co.
On the other side, the Reds are coming off a year that was most notable for injuries, anemic offense, and a horrible bullpen. On the positive side, Cueto was separated from the Cy Young by an outlandish, historic performance by Kershaw, Frazier had an All-Star year, and regression to the mean also allows for a return to former potential for players like Votto.
Iglesias: a product of Cuba and Cincinnati scouting, the rightie has earned a spot in the rotation, and will probably move to the bullpen when Homer Bailey returns.
Boesch: having an amazing spring training, perhaps Billy Burns-esque, but unfortunately for him the Reds have their outfield locked up. If he continues to perform he should be a valuable bench player.
Negron: this versatile utility player was able to get time because of the rash of injuries.
Byrd: although he is getting on in years, he had his best season last year and career highs in home runs, which was a welcome relief from the general poor play of the Reds’ left-fielders.
Dominguez: also having a nice spring and adds depth to the bench.
Suarez: Cozart has the SS position on lock, but Suarez should be valuable in case of injury or in relief.
Clearly, we are a team in transition (when are the A’s ever not?), and there are a ton of questions. Our transitory nature is reflected in our ballpark and city: surrounded by myriad ways out, whether by plane, train, or automobile. It is not a homey, welcoming place to play or stay. And yet this is not at all the nature of the fans. I would not trade ours for any in the league, in any sport. Because every year is so goddamn fun--at least for parts of the year. Nor would I trade our clubhouse for any other. Whatever else I say about last year, it was often a pleasure to see our players both on the field and in the dugout.
No doubt we will spend considerable time lamenting or praising Beane’s strategies as our success this year waxes and wanes. It’s all moot because in the end we will inevitably fall in love with our new players even as we anticipate their departure. We will root and clap our hands and bang our drums and chant our chants. Win or lose. Why? Because we f**king love baseball.
So let’s go, Oakland.