A’S ALREADY SHOWING QUALITY DEPTH
Prior to the season, ESPN’s baseball guru Buster Olney made a rather bold statement about the 2013 A’s. He said Bob Melvin’s club might be the deepest in the American League. However, if you followed the Oaklanders last season, that claim may not sound so bold. In fact, the 2012 AL West champs were all about depth and interchangeable parts.
Now, just a week into our new season, examples of that depth have already come into play. Let’s start with the pitching staff. The fact that 24-year-old Dan Straily can strike out 11 batters, walk none and allow two runs in 6.2 innings Friday night in Houston but then be sent down after the game to make room for No. 5 starter Bartolo Colon kind of illustrates that point, doesn’t it? But if you look even closer, I think it’s the depth we have in the back end of our rotation that will really serve this team well as the season continues to unfold. With Tommy Milone (13-10, 3.74 ERA last year), A.J. Griffin (7-1, 3.06) and Colon (10-9, 3.43) as our numbers three through five starters, we figure to own a significant advantage over most teams in the league. We saw that the first time through the rotation last week against the Mariners and Astros. And while Brett Anderson dodged a bullet—actually two bullets—in Sunday’s start at Minute Maid Park that battered his throwing hand, if he had been deemed unfit to pitch, Straily would have been on the next plane to rejoin the team for Anderson’s next start. You want to talk about depth?
And if we had received word that the Ragin’ Australian, Grant Balfour, needed more time to rehab his surgically-repaired knee and wouldn’t have been available to open the campaign, just think of our choices as his temporary replacement: the right-left, flame-throwing duo of All-Star Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle, or newly-acquired 30-year-old veteran Chris Resop, a minor league closer who has pitched in 137 games for Pittsburgh over the last two seasons. What other team in the American League has those kinds of choices? In fact, what other team in the league was forced to send down such quality arms the likes of Jordan Norberto (4-1, 2.77 last year), Pedro Figueroa (0-0, 3.32), Mike Ekstrom (team-best 1.20 ERA in 10 spring training games) or Hideki Okajima (17-8, 3.11 ERA in 261 career games with Boston) because there was simply no room in the bullpen?
Injuries sprung up among the A’s position players in recent weeks, too, again demonstrating why A’s fans should feel good about the club’s current depth chart. First, it was middle infielders Hiro Nakajima (hamstring) and Adam Rosales (intercostal), who were placed on the 15-day disabled list the final week of spring training. That left the starting shortstop job to Jed Lowrie, already a proven big leaguer at the position from his days in Boston and Houston. In the first seven games, Lowrie has done more damage at the plate than any other A’s player, leading the team in batting average (.500), RBI (6), on-base percentage (.567) and slugging percentage (1.000) and tied for the club lead in home runs (3).
Then Sunday, Gold Glove outfielder Josh Reddick decided to play bumper cars with the stadium railing down the right field line. It was a scary moment as he was escorted off the field with his right hand held immobile. While we’re glad to say x-rays proved negative, losing a player who led the 2012 club in home runs and RBI—even for a couple of days—is normally something that would have had a significant effect on a team’s lineup. However, not many teams have two proven hitting outfielders in reserve the caliber of Chris Young and Seth Smith. Young, a previous All-Star who has enjoyed three 20-homer, 20-stolen base seasons in the past with Arizona, promptly crowned Sunday’s 9-3 win over the young Astros by blasting a three-run homer in the fifth inning. Smith, a .268 career hitter in 616 big league games and one of the better fastball hitters in the league, was another hero Sunday, scorching a two-run double in the second inning.
We saw this type of balanced attack last season, when Oakland not only had 14 walk-off wins during the regular season but 11 different players doing the honors. But that was last year. I don’t think anyone in their right minds would predict that many walk-off victories will come our way again this year. However, this year’s team may actually be deeper than last season. That should bode well as we run another marathon in 2013. As we have already seen in the season’s first week, it can be a different player that can make the difference in any given game.