Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Season Of Try

So spring, and hope, is eternal, and it might actually be a season where my Oakland A's do more than just try to play .500 and attract gullible people before selling off assets at the deadline. No, seriously.

Part of this, of course, has to do with the relative weakness of the division. The defending champion Rangers lost Cliff Lee and Vladimir Guerrero from last year's overachievers, and have brought in Adrian Beltre, which is usually a disappointing experience. They'll have a decent offense if Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton stay intact, which is to say they will not have a decent offense. (It'll seem good, because Texas is that way, but you get the gist.) I also fully expect their pitching rotation to regress, leading to bullpen issues, once they decide to ruin closer Neftali Feliz. After all, they are the Rangers; they do not, as a general rule, know how to handle prosperity.

As for the other usual problem, the Angels... well, they just decided to mortgage themselves for Vernon Wells in a trade that no one in Southern California can figure out. They look weak on offense for a full half of the lineup, the bullpen is anchored by Fernando Rodney, and their farm system rarely delivers anyone who fulfills the hype. Let's just say that I'm not too scared of them, really.

So, back to the A's. They will be their usual power-free selves; with the possible exception of third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, who they've tried like hell to run off, they might not have a single guy on the roster who will hit even 20 homers. But they will catch the ball all over the place, have a positively lethal bullpen if closer Andrew Bailey is healthy, and have some real horse candidates in the rotation, between Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden and even old friend Rich Harden. Besides, the A's never lack for starting pitchers.

There is also three other factors to consider. First, the upcoming release of "Moneyball", the odd movie project that only makes sense when you realize that the last movie that someone made out of a Michael Lewis book was "The Blind Side," and Hollywood is really that thick. It's hard to imagine, on an ego standpoint, that general manager and faded wunderkind Billy Beane is going to go for his usual fire sale fold when there's extra publicity on the team.

Secondly, there's the fact that the Giants are the champions of baseball, a situation that makes the usual second-string A's even more of an afterthought in the area. Seriously, there may be more interest in the minor league San Jose Giants than the A's; there's certainly more interest, among casual baseball fans in the area, to going to San Jose for a game than the old Coliseum.

Third and final, there's the sense that, well, the jig is up from a stadium standpoint. San Jose is Giants Country, and won't be given up with a payoff. Fremont has fallen through. Nothing has changed in the nearly 700 days since MLB started to "study" the stadium issue, but the gist now seems to be a ballpark near Jack London Square in Oakland (the club doesn't want it), San Jose with a Giant payday, or just getting out of the area entirely and going to Portland, Vegas, or anywhere else. California is broke, and the state isn't going to do a thing for millionaires, and amen to that.

But nothing gets better for them with another meh 80 to 85 win year. If they can somehow run off and hide with the division, and make it quite obvious that a playoff series will happen, maybe with a concurrent Giants regression to the mean...

Ah, who am I kidding? They'll win 85 to 88 games, which might be enough for the West, but they won't draw or challenge the Giants no matter what happens, and the movie will tank, because it makes no sense as a movie. But the Giants have, at least, proven one thing: if you make the playoffs, you can win it all. And that might actually change something. No pressure, A's.

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