Okay, A’s fans, your team continues to toy with you. One day, they’re a game below the .500 mark, two days later they’re a game above .500. The rhetorical question is this: is that a good or bad thing? Well perched around .500 can have different connotations to different people. For those who think our 18-17 record is merely a continuation of last year’s team that carved out an 81-81 mark, maybe the .500 mark is a negative. And with our early season bloated with superior pitching and anemic hitting, it’s no wonder some frustrated A’s fans will declare “same old, same old.”
However, my view is a bit more encouraging. First, last year the general feeling in the clubhouse, as well among our fans, was we pretty much maxed out by posting an 81-81 record and second-place finish. This year, the vibe is much different. This team expects to win and is clearly not satisfied with being only one game north of the .500 mark at this juncture of the early season. I think these guys know they’re a better club this year. In fact, they knew it in spring training. And when you think about it, the vital signs are more postive then you might think for an 18-17 team. First, we sport a .526 record (10-9) on the road, playing top-rate competition. The axiom that championship teams play .500 baseball on the road is true, so even though we really haven’t consistently played good baseball this past month, the fact remains that we’re getting it done on the road–as evidenced by yesterday’s series-clinching 5-2 win at Kansas City. Then consider some other good omens. We’re in AL West contention even though we’re missing our All-Star closer (Andrew Bailey), Perfect Game starter (Dallas Braden) and last year’s most valuable supersub (Adam Rosales). And, with our two wins in KC coming on the heels of a solid 4-3 homestand against the defending AL champion Texas Rangers and baseball’s winningest team this year, the Cleveland Indians. That homestand featured some stirring wins triggered by the clutch hitting of the three key offseason lineup acquisitions in David DeJesus (two homers Wednesday), Hideki Matsui (walk-off home run last Monday) and Josh Willingham (game-tying homer and double last Monday). Then add slump-busting efforts by Daric Barton, Mark Ellis and Kevin Kouzmanoff yesterday, plus the apparent return of Michael Wuertz‘s devastating slider out of the pen and recent dominating performances by new starting pitcher Tyson Ross, and this club clearly is moving in the right direction, .500 mark or not.
I had the distinct pleasure to work with Dusty Baker for nearly 10 years when he managed the Giants and Dusty always told me, “early in the season, the key is to stick around .500. If you can hang around .500, eventually you’ll catch a hot streak and you can make your move. It’s the teams that dig a hole early that have trouble getting into contention.” So folks, don’t despair. My friend Dusty would say, “it’s not a race, it’s a marathon.” So, we jet to Texas with much hope and promise. Keep the faith, A’s Nation. I think this group knows it can hit better than it has. And they also know it’s up to them, and no one else, to prove it. Time, as it always does, will tell.