By Eric Denton - Angelswin.com Senior Writer
It wasn’t supposed to be the Oakland Athletics in second place only a half game back of the Angels for first place in the AL West.
The Mariners were the trendy pick to unseat the Angels in 2008; however they currently occupy last place ten games under .500 already 7.5 games behind.
How are the A’s doing it?
Oakland is fourth in the American League despite a pedestrian .689 OPS (on base + slugging percentage). Their team defense is also nothing to write home about (11th out of 14 teams, fielding percentage of .982).
Emil Brown (who?), leads the A’s in most offensive categories. Two of their best hitters in 2007, Jack Cust Mark Ellis have not gotten off to good starts. Former Royal Mike Sweeney appears rejuvenated, but his health is always a question mark. The recently acquired Frank Thomas has yet to get it going, and third baseman Eric Chavez has yet to play this season.
The answer is pitching, pitching and more pitching.
Oakland is second in the league with a 3.32 era. Rookies Dana Eveland (3.23 era) and Greg Smith (3.26 era) have been outstanding out of the gate. So has reliever turned starter Justin Duchscherer who leads the team with a minuscule 2.22 era. Joe Blanton has been solid as well. All of this has been done without the aide or Rich Harden who has already made his annual trip to the disabled list.
Their bullpen has also gotten outstanding efforts from Joey Devine, Santiago Casilla, Kirk Sarloos and one of the team’s few veterans Alan Embree.
General Manager Billy Beane probably didn’t expect this team to play so well to start the year. Once the Athletics start to fade, expect Beane to deal off the his veteran players in an effort to continue his rebuilding plans. It will be very surprising if Joe Blanton, Huston Street and Mike Sweeney remain in Oakland all season. However, if their rotation and bullpen remain dominant all season long, plans could change.
Now the question remains, can the A’s sustain their play for an entire season and give the Angels a run for their money?
My feeling is no, they will not. Eventually their rookie pitchers will go through the league a few times and will start to struggle.
The AL West is still the Angels to lose.