August 2010

WHO IS THE BEST RIGHT-LEFT STARTING COMBO IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE?

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While the Yankees can run C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes
out to the mound and the Red Sox can counter with
Clay Bucholz and Jon Lester,
it may sound ludicrous to make this forthcoming claim…but here goes: Is it
possible that the A’s 22-year-old
Trevor Cahill
and 24-year-old
Gio Gonzalez form the best
right-left starting pitching tandem in the American League?  Well, judging by the numbers, they at least
belong in the conversation.  Here’s a
statistical breakdown on the best right-left combos in the AL entering tonight’s games:

Name                        Team              W-L      ERA     GS       IP         H         Opp. BA

Phil Hughes, RHP          New
York          15-5      3.90      23         140.2    132       .247

C.C. Sabathia, LHP        New
York          17-5      3.02      27         187.2    168       .243

 

Clay Bucholz, RHP        Boston              15-5      2.26      22         139.1    114       .224

Jon Lester, LHP             Boston              13-8      3.26      25         163.0    135       .226

 

Jeff Nieman, RHP           Tampa Bay        10-3      3.12      22         141.1    121       .231

David Price, LHP            Tampa Bay        15-5      2.97      24         157.2    133       .229

 

Carl Pavano, RHP          Minnesota         15-9      3.56      26         182.0    180       .260

Francisco Liriano, LHP   Minnesota         11-7      3.45      24         151.1    144       .250

 

Trevor
Cahill, RHP    Oakland         13-5    2.54    22        148.2  103     .198   

Gio
Gonzalez, LHP    Oakland         11-8    3.24    26        161.0  134     .224

While certainly you can make a valid case for any of
these twosomes, I think where the A’s pair measures up quite convincingly is in
ERA, where Cahill ranks third in the American League at 2.54 and Gonzalez ranks
10th at 3.24, and in opponents batting average, where Cahill (.198) and
Gonzalez (.224) respectively rank first and fifth in the AL.  Then look at their performances since the
All-Star Break:  Cahill is 4-2 with a
1.84 ERA and .182 opponents’ BA, while Gio is 4-2 with a 2.17 ERA and .197 OBA.

 

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In fact, the two Oakland aces fare even better in a bigger
sample size.  Since June 21, Cahill is
7-3 with a 1.99 ERA and miniscule .173 OBA in 11 starts while Gonzalez is 5-3
with a 2.20 ERA and .209 OBA in 12 starts. 
During this nine-week stretch, Cahill 
and Gonzalez rank third and fourth, respectively, in the AL in opponents’ batting
average. This only underscores how almost unhittable their stuff has
become.  And while Cahill has been
ridiculously consistent all season long, Gio may be the hotter pitcher of
late.  In his last 12 starts since June
21, the Cuban-American southpaw has allowed one run or less eight times.  And throughout his young Major League career,
he has proven to be close to a sure thing when he receives run support.  Including last night’s masterpiece, Gonzalez
is 16-1 in 24 lifetime starts when the A’s hitters score at least three runs
for him.  Conversely, he has been saddled
with a 2-18 mark in his 26 career starts in which Oakland’s offense has scored two runs or
less.

 

The fact that these dynamic young pitchers now go
back-to-back in the starting rotation–Cahill will be gunning for Win No. 14
tonight in Cleveland–is a real treat for A’s fans, as both pitchers feature unique
styles that have developed into the same winning formula for the team.  With these two golden arms, the A’s can
provide a left-right punch that would make
Andre Ward, another Oakland
product, very proud.  Here’s hoping for
another knockout performance tonight at Progressive Field (4 p.m. PDT on
Comcast SportsNet California
and XTRA Sports 860 AM).

ON TARGET: A NEW BALLPARK THAT MAKES THE A’S GREEN WITH ENVY

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Well, three close losses aside, my weekend visit to Minneapolis was certainly
enlightening.  I had heard that the
Twins’ new home, Target Field, was baseball’s newest gem.  Yet, walking into the first-year venue was
beyond my wildest expectations.  Of the
new generation of Major League ballparks, this may the best designed and best
feeling one of all–even outdistancing such jewels as the new Yankee and Busch
stadiums, as well as the Giants’ AT&T Park and Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.  Some of the more distinctive features at
Target Field are:

 

  • Limestone facing both inside and outside the park, going against
    the recent trend by adding a non-brick
    surface.

 

  • Similar to the renovated Dodgers Stadium, the lower box seat area
    is separated by a “moat” of sorts, which allows patrons to socialize going
    to and from their seats.

 

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  • A gigantic replica of the original Twin Cities logo featuring two
    players, one representing Minneapolis and
    the other St. Paul,
    shaking hands in dead center field above the batter’s eye.

 

  • Beyond the left field seating sets perhaps the largest and sharpest
    video board on this or any other planet. 
    If Ron Gardenhire is talking with his pitcher on the mound, he
    better hope there aren’t lip readers in the stands.

 

  • Videoboard.jpgResembling some of the soccer stadiums I’ve seen abroad, the upper
    awning overhang above the top tier seating features a built in bank of
    lighting–very cool and futurist looking.

 

  • An abundance of affordable outfield seating, including a three-deck
    layout in left field with towering heights that harkens back to the old
    Metropolitan Stadium where Killebrew, Carew and Oliva once roamed.

 

  • Unlike the New Yankee Stadium–impressive in its own right–Target
    Field is wide open behind the right field bleachers.  You can see 6th Street and part of
    downtown Minneapolis.

 

Yet, beyond the great features, Target Field
represents much more than a pristine place to play baseball.  It’s a crowning achievement for a small
market franchise that for many years has had its ingenuity tested in its
efforts to stay playoff caliber.  (Sound
familiar?).  I spoke with the Twins’
long-time broadcaster Dick Bremer.  You could
just see his excitement and emotion when he spoke.  “I’m from here.  Grew up here. 
Went to high school here.  To see
what this has done for my city and area is amazing.” 

 

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A day like yesterday–74 degrees, blue skies with
little humidity–is when these locals really enjoy not being entrapped under a
stifling roof.  Not to mention dealing with
that ridiculous Metrodome “baggie” outfield fence.  Yet, I think the most poignant scene I
witnessed last weekend was simply watching Joe Mauer stroll to the plate. He’s
the franchise player, truly a player for the ages, and he’s locked up with a
long-term contract that ensures that young fans will grow up watching their
favorite hero–and cornerstone of the franchise–play games in a Twins uniform at
Target Field for many years to come.  I
couldn’t help but feel a little green with envy, wondering when the time will
come when our Oakland
A’s fans can experience the same thrill. 
With Target Field now christened and the Marlins’ new yard opening soon,
only Oakland and Tampa Bay
remain among the 32 MLB clubs still seeking a new home.  You would think the odds are starting to tilt
in our favor that a permanent–and logical–solution will be forthcoming in the
near future.  We can only hope.

A’S DOING THE “LITTLE THINGS” TO STAY IN THE RACE

The A’s clubhouse scene
after Sunday’s series-clinching win over Texas
was upbeat but not euphoric.  At one end
of the room, there’s
Trevor Cahill–the “Baby-faced
Assassin” as coined by GM
Billy Beane–surrounded
by Bay Area TV cameras and reporters.  A
young man in big demand.  That’s what a
12-4 record and 2.56  ERA will do for
you.  In another locker stall, there’s
interim closer
Michael Wuertz slipping on a
chartreuse dress shirt before joining
Kate Longworth
and her Comcast cameraman for a postgame interview.  In the manager’s office, the door is closed
as
Bob
Geren
and the A’s baseball braintrust
discuss whether there might roster moves to make, necessitated by a non
baseball-related injury (
Matt Watson,
kidney stones) or just a growing need to find more lethal bat. 

 

While this is a roster of
young and inexperienced players, it’s evident they know overhauling the Rangers
in the standings will not be easy.  And
it will be an uphill climb.  They also
know both teams are entering a pivotal time of the season.  We visit Seattle
and Minnesota, then return to host
suddenly-hot Toronto.  Texas,
now under stable ownership, faces perhaps its greatest challenge of the season
in facing the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays in succession.

 

Yesterday was the kind of
game that you need to win to stay in a pennant race.  It’s not necessarily pretty, but all that
matters is that you find a way to
win.  The little things matter.  Early in the game, we failed to move runners
over or in some cases, failed to even make contact
with runners in scoring position.  But after
Cahill was undeservedly charged with two unearned runs in the seventh inning, our
boys finally extricated ourselves from an early-game funk and started
executing.  A
Coco Crisp stolen base. 
A
Landon Powell sacrifice
bunt.  A
Rajai Davis sacrifice fly. 
Another sac-fly, this one by Mr. Clutch,
Kurt Suzuki.  A
crash-in-the-wall catch by Coco that deprived
the Rangers of another run.  And a
textbook 6-4-3 double play by
Cliff Pennington and Mark Ellis on a Vladimir Guerrero ninth inning grounder, which helped Wuertz slam the
lid on the A’s 52nd win of the season.  More importantly, it clinched a series win
over the first-place Rangers and whittled their deficit to a more manageable 7
½ games with 52 games remaining.

 

If we’re going to make a
move, it will require more 3-2 wins and unheralded plays like Powell’s
bunt.  And, of course, our lights-out
pitching will need to bring its A game nightly. 
If all of this can transpire in the weeks ahead, the A’s may just
continue to hang around.  In fact, a good
week or two as we approach the backside of August, and who knows, we may
actually pull within striking distance of the formidable Rangers.  If that happens, A’s fans may be in for a
real treat come September.  We can only
hope.

QUICK OBSERVATIONS FROM THE ROAD…

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After a week of road games
against first-place teams, it’s clear that our pitchers can hang with
anybody. 
Cahill was nothing less than brilliant in Texas
and the past two days in Chicago,
Braden and Gonzalez
reeled off the A’s first back-to-back complete games in seven years (
Zito and Mulder were the last in 2003).  But this week also offered some harsh
realities for the boys in Green & Gold. 
When you look at the power and production–and swagger–of the Rangers’ and White Sox 3-4-5 hitters, it kind of
clear we can’t come close to their firepower. 
I mean,
Guerrero-Hamilton-Cruz or Rios-Konerko-Quintin, we are not.  Don’t get me wrong, the scrappiness of our
lineup does have an endearing quality.  What’s
not to like about a
Rajai Davis steal or Kurt Suzuki clutch two-out RBI hit?  But to join the big boys, well…you need some big boys.  As I mentioned in my last blog, Travis Buck and Conor Jackson
are on the mend and rehabbing for re-entry. 
In fact, Buck uncorked a home run yesterday for Sacramento, which was a positive sign.  And, of course, fellow RiverCatters
Chris Carter and Michael Taylor,
and recently-signed first-round draft pick
Michael Choice, are in the pipeline as projected middle-of-the-order
hitters.  A’s fans, we appreciate your
patience.  I know we’re trying that
patience in Year 4 of our rebuilding process. 
I think we’ve made important strides in many areas of our game–pitching,
defense and speed, to name three–and hopefully we’ll add some fence-clearing
power to the mix soon….

 

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One middle-of-the-order
addition this year who may not get enough kudos is
Kevin Kouzmanoff.  Yes, I know,
Kouz is a streaky hitter.  It seems he’s
always in either a 12-for-26 or 0-for-12 run of some sort.  But the guy has been solid as a rock; plays
almost every day, makes all the plays at third base at a position that is
extremely hard to fill for many GMs, and he’s a team player all the way.  Plus, we like saying his name.  Koooooouz….

 

It was great to see Ying and
Yang back in the clubhouse together with the return of Brett Anderson from the
DL.  He rejoins Trevor Cahill as the
franchise’s two most prized young starting pitchers, really two of the more coveted
neophytes in all of baseball.  Anderson got derailed
with his unexpected elbow problems, but he should be fine again once the rust
is shaken.  And what about the baby-faced
Cahill?  Did you notice this rather
eye-popping stat?  Trevor has limited
opposing hitters to a below-the-Mendoza-line .196 batting average this
season.  That figure leads all American League pitchers (okay, let’s collectively pinch
ourselves…this kid is only 22 years old!). 
What’s this All-Star going to do for an encore?  Too bad he’s a ground ball pitcher instead of
a strikeout artist, because I already had a great new name for him:  K-Hill….

 

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On a side note, I loved
listening to A’s play-by-play voice
Ken Korach reminisce about his early broadcasting days in big
league baseball.  He joined me and our
beat writers in the press lounge at U. S. Cellular Field yesterday, and told us
how he started out as a part-time announcer for the White Sox.  He used to fill in for former White Sox
play-by-play man
John Rooney, who also had national
radio obligations on weekends.  Korach
would fly in from Las Vegas,
check into a hotel and then make like
Adam Rosales
as a utility man in the broadcast booth. 
“Man, I was coming from the lowly minor leagues, so even eating this
fabulous brunch in the press lounge was exciting.  I knew I was finally in the big leagues“…. 

 

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Korach, clearly a good story
teller both on and off the air, also shared this one with me while we were both
wilting at a Rangers’ games in Arlington
this week.  “My former partner, Mr. King,
had it in his contract in the later years that he didn’t have to make the A’s
trips to Texas
in the summer.  He just couldn’t stand
the weather.”  And beyond the oppressive
heat and humidity, the visiting broadcast booths are situated high atop Rangers
Ballpark in a perfect location to catch the constant winds that blow, sometimes
at quite high velocity, over the Texas
plains.  Apparently
Bill King just loved it when his game notes and stat sheets
used to take flight off the broadcast counter. 
First, he would try his best to track the materials down, then after a
second or third attempt one time, it became legend that the Great One once just
picked up the papers, hurled them out the window of the broadcast wind tunnel
and just, mid-game, exited the booth…..

 

And with that, I choose to
exit this blog, until the next time.  Kansas City and Texas
visit the Coliseum this week.  Come out
and give our A’s some love. 

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