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These A's: Who Are They Really?

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Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

There's a useful saying that you're never as good as you are when you're going good and you're never as bad as you are when you're going bad. This is good news for the A's because no doubt right now they are going bad, bad, bad. No, these A's are not as magical as the win streak that propelled Oakland to 10-7, but if you think going 4-13 is normal then you probably live in Atlanta.

The rotation

At the moment it's hard to summon positive thoughts about the starting pitching, yet I still feel it has a chance to be a strength rather than the current train wreck. Soon the front five may well be Sonny Gray, Rich Hill, Jesse Hahn, Henderson Alvarez, and Sean Manaea and while Gray hasn't really been right all season, Manaea's debut has been one only Gio Gonzalez could appreciate, Hahn has somehow slipped behind Eric Surkamp on the depth chart, and Alvarez has been inconsistent in his rehab efforts, the fact remains that those five represent a pretty solid combination of talent and track record. The rotation will probably be fine; I project it to be above-average when the dust clears.

The bullpen

The bullpen is good, if dangerously overworked and perhaps not actually great. Not only has Ryan Madson stabilized the closer's role, there is depth with John Axford, Fernando Rodriguez, Marc Rzepczynski, and Ryan Dull all making significant contributions and Andrew Triggs looking like a good bet to stick long term.

On the down side, it has truly been a struggle for Sean Doolittle whose fastball is simply more hittable than it used to be and whose breaking pitch is reliably "taken for a ball". The split-change? It's ok but Doolittle is still primarily dependent on his fastball to miss bats and while he still misses many the ones that connect tend to make contact hard and far. Liam Hendriks has never really found his stride and now has found the DL. We'll see if there's a turnaround or whether 2016 is just a lost season for the Aussie.

Overall, the lack of a long reliever has been brutal to the team and going forward the A's need to wise up and replace one of their short relievers with a guy who can soak up 4-5 IP every few days as needed. Dull has been good, but spotty enough that it wouldn't be a disaster if he were sent to AAA in exchange for a long man. Certainly Madson, Axford, Rodriguez, Rzepczynski, and hopefully Triggs, are guys you feel good about pitching in high leverage situations. Doolittle makes six and ideally a long man makes seven. That's a solid bullpen, just not the "lights out" one we might have been lulled into believing when everything was clicking for a winning week.

The offense

Coming into the season I saw this offense as "average" and that's still about how I see it. There is depth at the end of the lineup and at the same time Oakland's 3-4-5 won't scare you as much as most teams' heart of the order. On one hand you can expect Yonder Alonso and Chris Coghlan to improve towards their career norms, and at the same time we have probably seen the best that Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, and Josh Reddick have to offer. Marcus Semien's batting average will creep up and his power production will slow down. It's an average offense.

The defense

Here is where I have the biggest concerns. The A's came into spring training making errors and fundamental mistakes from the git-go, led the Cactus League in errors and it wasn't really close, then started the season like the Bad News Bears and haven't really let up.

Specifically, Lowrie is a significant liability at 2B, Josh Phegley is a butcher behind the plate, Billy Burns takes a bad route on his way to throwing to the wrong base, and the pitchers seem collectively incapable of fielding their position. And for every error noted in the score book there seem to be two plays you wouldn't want to show your Little League team. "Here's how you complete a rundown, kids...on Opposite Day!"

This is, despite the best efforts of Alonso and the remarkable strides made by Semien, a below average defense whose lack of fundamental ability will continue to drag the team down.


So, if my projections are correct and the A's have average health going forward -- two conditions about which you should be mightily skeptical -- I see the A's regressing to have, by the start of June, above average pitching, an average offense, below average defense, and roughly a .500 team.

Let's say the A's lose tonight behind Surkamp and a battered infield. My goal for Oakland? To reverse what has happened so far, which means balancing a 14-21 start with a 21-14 run that leaves the team at .500 70 games into the season. That gives you hope for the final 92 games in a division that is unlikely to see any team run away and hide.

That's a tall order: play .600 ball over a 35 game stretch and then come out of it ready to keep winning. Likely? No. Possible? Perhaps. Wait much longer to get it going? I wouldn't recommend it.