Monday, August 15, 2005

A's Will Fall Just Like Rangers

Back on June 1st I predicted that the Texas Rangers would fall from contention in the ALWest. I bring this up not to gloat (though the over/under on Buck Showalter's resignation/firing now stands at 34 days) but to predict the impending slide of the Oakland Athletics.

The Rangers fall-from-grace was easy to call because they have no pitching. They had Kenny Rogers but even I did not foresee the mess his season would turn into. The Texas bullpen was woeful and a team of power hitters are going to eventually hit a rough patch. That adds up to an inevitable losing streak and the Rangers have delivered in spades.

The A's on the other hand do have pitching. Both at the front of a game (Harden, Zito, Haren) and now in a revamped bullpen (Witasick, Dushscherer, Street). But what Oakland does not have is a lot of experience in the pen or with their starters. They also have the weakest hitting line-up in the AL West. I mean, c'mon, when your most feared hitter after Eric Chavez is Nick Swisher than you are not exactly making opposing pitchers lose sleep the night before an A's game. But before I explain why the Athletics are destined to fall, I must give Oakland credit. They have done an amazing job with limited talent. Many of their young players have plenty of potential talent, particularly the pitchers. But real bankable talent such as Eric Chavez is extremely limited. So I must advise our adversaries to the north that the end is coming A's fan. Oakland managed to steal a couple games from the Angels thanks to a pair of uncharacteristic late-inning meltdowns in the Halo bullpen, but do not expect that to happen again. There is only seven weeks left in the regular season so the A's will stay reasonably close just playing .500 ball. But as they showed in their last two series, Oakland is in the midst of a severe power outage at the plate. The A's are averaging just 2.8 runs a game over their past six and have gone 3-3 thanks to some great starting pitching. But they very easily could have gone 1-5 had the Angels not handed them two games. When the A's were hot in July they were winning games by large margins. They outscored Texas 26 - 16 in a four game set and won a series from Chicago by outscoring the Sox 23 - 11. That hitting could not and has not continued. While the bats cooled off the pitching has kept Oakland from fading. But as AL hitters get a second and third look at the young hurlers from NoCal, look for them to start to struggle.

When the story of the 2005 season is written, about Oakland it will be said that this was one streaky team. Horrible to start, great in the middle but faded down the stretch. It is in the dog days of August, when arms get heavy, that the tested veterans prove their metal. Pitchers like Bartolo Colon and Paul Byrd will flourish while relative newbies like Danny Haren and Rich Harden will begin to either wilt in the summer heat or simply break down. Likewise, young hitters like Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson, players who have never endured a long major league season, will find the grind taking its toll on their inexperienced bodies. The Angel hitters are veterans. Guerrero, Anderson, Erstad, Kennedy, Figgins and Molina have all been through the war together and know how to close. They will finish the season strong and the young A's will finish 5 games back in second place, gunning for a wild-card spot against the resurgent Yankees.

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