THE HIDDEN WEAPON OF YOUR 2010 A’S

Even though our road trip
finale at Fenway Park may have resembled pinball more than baseball–a combined 17
runs and 32 hits spewed off the bats of the A’s and Red Sox–I’m here today to
discuss the most unsung facet of our team: 
d-e-f-e-n-s-e.

 

In this new age of baseball,
where power hitting is declining and there’s a resurgence of dominant pitching,
it would appear that general managers like Billy
Beane are placing a higher premium on speed and defense.  You may not see a remix of the Los Angeles
Dodgers, circa 1963, or the St. Louis Cardinals, circa 1985.  However, over the course of a 162-game
schedule, we should not underestimate the value of great glove work. 

It can and will make a profound impact on the final
standings.  As I mentioned in an early
offseason blog, the acquisitions of Kevin Kouzmanoff and Coco Crisp signaled a
clear sign that Billy was making every effort to fortify our defense.  And, judging by our current team fielding
percentage, not to mention the improved range of many of our fielders, this new
emphasis is paying big dividends and, perhaps, helps explain how we’re flying
home tonight tied for first place in the AL West.

 

After all, look around the
infield–Kouz has reeled off 24 consecutive errorless games and seems to make all the tough plays at third base,
especially with runners in scoring position and the game on the line.  Cliff Pennington is a fielding machine at SS,
ranking third in the AL
in fielding percentage in his first full season with the team.  Mark Ellis owns one of the best career
fielding percentages for a second baseman in major league history, and when he
was on the DL this year, Adam Rosales was nothing short of brilliant as his
replacement, joining Dustin Pedroia as the only two second basemen in the
majors yet to make an error this season. 
And while Daric Barton has seven errors pinned to his name, that does
not tell the whole story.  He’s made
spectacular plays daily–he may turn the 3-6-3 double play as well as anyone in
baseball–and has also been an ironman in starting every game this year.  Then you look behind the plate and see
Suzuki.  Enough said. 

 

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And while we would be exceptional
if Crisp was healthy and patrolling center field, manager Bob Geren still runs out one of the league’s better
defensive outfields in Rajai Davis in center, Ryan Sweeney in right, and Gabe
Gross in left.  Sweeney was a human
highlight reel last year, and while he hasn’t been quite as spectacular this
season, he’s been every bit as effective with his polished play and rifle arm
in right.  Davis simply outruns the baseball in center. 
He also sports a very underrated throwing arm, not only in strength but
also in accuracy.  And Gross has been a
revelation in left during the road trip. 
His leaping over-the-fence robbery of a certain home run by Gerald Laird
in Detroit Saturday, and then his on-the-money throw that cut down Brennan
Boesch in the Tigers’ finale were both defensive gems.  And when he replaced a woozy Sweeney midway
through yesterday’s finale, Gabe uncorked another beauty that cut down Darnell
McDonald trying to score from second on a single. In fact, he became only the 4th
outfielder in last 20 years to have an assist from two different OF positions in the
same game!

 

Add this kind of stellar
defense to an emerging young pitching staff that, despite a few bumps on the
road trip, must be considered one of the AL’s
best, and timely hitting may be all required for this club to stay in playoff
contention.  Yes, playoff contention.

 

Stay tuned.

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