Now for something really important, Major League Baseball. The key matchup between the A’s and the Anaheim team looks like it’s going to tilt in favor of the A’s this year; the machine predictions back this up, even if the human predictions don’t. Last year the A’s suffered from an acute lack of offense, which placed the pitching staff under undue stress. The situation is reversed this year as the A’s have a more potent offense than Anaheim, but there’s no denying that the Anaheim pitching staff is stronger than the A’s mostly-rookie rotation and mostly-discard bullpen. But the season covers 162 games and most of the results depend on which team’s key players stay healthy. This is where the A’s have the edge this year.
The Anaheim outfield is composed of players who are all on the down side of their careers, aging stars Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, and Vladdy Guerrero. While Vladdy is the only one with a significant injury history, the others are at the point where hamstrings, ACLs, and quads are more fragile. The A’s outfield, on the other hand, features slugger Matt Holliday at the peak of his career and youngsters Travis Buck and Ryan Sweeney on the verge of breakout. The A’s outfield is also stronger defensively, which is fortunate given the age of the pitching staff.
In the infield, the A’s have rectified their three major deficits by signing Orlando Cabrera at short and Jason Giambi at first and getting Eric Chavez healthy. Giambi is an old-timer, but he’s so happy to be back in Oakland after securing his retirement in New York that he’s going to have a second childhood. Cabrera is one of my favorite shortstops because he’s an all-around star, even if he’s been labeled a clubhouse cancer by bitter fans who’ve seen their favorite player benched when OC came along. One of those guys, Nomar Garciaparra (he of the annoying tics) is a backup infielder for the A’s this year. Eric Chavez appears to be healthy, hitting two homers in three games against the AAAA Giants last weekend, and his defense is stellar as ever. Jack Cust appears to be moving into a full-time DH role, suitable to his defensive skills and appropriate to his offensive ones.
Landon Powell, the new backup catcher, has injury problems but is a superior thrower and hitter to starter Kurt Suzuki. I’d take the A’s infield over the under-performing, weak hitting Anaheims any day of the week.
The pitching staff is the big question mark, however. Justin Duchsherer continues to have problems with his elbow, shoulder, and hip indicative of bad mechanics. These problems don’t tend to sort themselves out without the intervention of a Rick Peterson. Two of the A’s starters haven’t pitched above AA, so they’re a wild card in big leagues at best. The remaining starters, Braden, Eveland, and Outman have thus far failed to distinguish themselves at the big league level, and the nominal closer is on the disabled list. Anaheim, on the other hand, has the most formidable starting five in baseball, when healthy. But fortunately for the A’s, every single one is an injury risk (the season starts with the three best on the disabled list) so we can reasonably expect that the Anaheim farm system will end up carrying a great deal of the load this year.
If the pitching staffs perform consistent with past results, including injury history, the A’s will win the division. If Anaheim’s witch doctors cast healing spells in favor of their geriatric outfield and rickety starting rotation, the A’s will once again sit out the post-season. The Anaheims will most likely go far in the post-season if they make it, but that’s another story. For the time being, it looks like the A’s will win the division by 4 games.