Results tagged ‘ Mark Ellis ’

Role Players Pivotal To A’s Success This Year

My first observation following yesterday’s 2-1 win in Toronto:   Trevor Cahill (left) looks like the same guy who won 18 last year and earned All-Star honors—if not better. His ball still darts downward with a bite almost unfair to hitters.  And this, from a 23-year-old kid who still sports peach fuzz on his cheeks.

It took some courage from Bob Geren to remove him from a 3-hit masterpiece after eight innings and a 105-pitch count, but in the long run, I think they felt it was time for Brian Fuentes to notch his first save.  We don’t make a serious run at the AL West crown unless we’re clicking on all cylinders, and that means Fuentes,   Bailey and Balfour providing the final touches on A’s wins.  Same goes for sitting down David DeJesus in favor of Conor Jackson (left, below) and plugging in Andy LaRoche to rest the ear-infected EllisJackson and LaRoche will play vital roles on this team if we want to join the 90-win echelon of other playoff contenders.  This means specialists and backup players will need to step up and flourish when they’re asked to perform, whether it is an occasional start, a pinch-hitting appearance, or a summon from the bullpen.

The good news is they’re passing the early tests.  After a bout with a finger blister, Fuentes looked like his old self at the Rogers Centre, whipping that cross-body heater that can tie hitters up in knots.  Jackson has been nothing but sensational in his two starts this season.  Not only has he wielded a hot bat, he’s also more than held his own in the field.  His shoestring catch of a sinking liner off the bat of Adam Lind in the sixth inning today may have been even more impactful than his game-deciding RBI single was in the eighth.  And LaRoche, thrust into the unaccustomed role of utilityman, may have emerged as our most consistent hitter in the early season while starting at shortstop, third base and second base in consecutive games.

Yes realists, we are only 2-4 as we enter the frigid confines of Target Field.  But as I mentioned in my previous blog, this is a work in progress.  While expectations are high, and the early season schedule presents challenges, those wearing green and gold uniforms are focusing merely at the task at hand.  With 156 games left to the finish line, there will be many revelations in store as the season unfolds.  Today, the Twins christen their home season.  Brett Anderson will take the mound for the Athletics, aiming to spoil another team’s Opening Day in the same fashion King Felix did in Oakland last week.  As always, time will tell.


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When the A’s consummated the
ouzmanoff (right) trade with the San Diego
Padres last week, most pundits nodded
and offered the obvious analysis.  Oakland
had, indeed, found a much n
eeded middle-of-the-order hitter for their 2010
lineup.  Afterall, the 6-1, 210-pound
slugger has averaged 20 home runs, 31 doubles and 82 RBI over the last three

seasons despite playing home games at San Diego’s
pitcher-friendly Petco

But what may have gone unnoticed is GM Billy
has acquired yet
another key defensive piece to the roster. 
Kouzmanoff, admittedly an inconsistent fielder in his early days, has
blossomed into one of baseball’s best defensive players at the hot corner.  Last year, he set a National League record
for fielding percentage (.990) by a third baseman, committing only three errors all season long.  Think about that for minute.  Playing one of the toughest positions on the
diamond, he was charged with only three
errors!  Remarkable. 

Yet, the Kouzmanoff acquisition signals more
than the addition of a good, all-around player. 
It represents another step in Beane’s rather unheralded plan to build an
outstanding defensive team in 2010.  Consider
this:  the A’s infield now features two
deserving Gold Glove candidates in Kouzmanoff and second baseman
Mark Ellis–not to mention an on-the-mend Eric Chavez, who has already won six Gold Gloves–plus speedy
Cliff Pennington, who reeled off
an errorless streak of 35 consecutive games last year in earning the starting
job, and
Daric Barton, who was a
revelation at first base last season with a .998 fielding mark.  Meanwhile, the starting outfield, as its
constituted today, features two spectacular speed burners in
Rajai Davis and Coco Crisp
in left and center (or vice versa), and
Ryan Sweeney, the human highlight reel who tied for fourth in the
American League in outfield assists (11) last year, in right.  Then add team leader
Kurt Suzuki behind the plate–he led all 2009 AL catchers in
games played and game started, and ranked second in assists–and there’s every
reason to believe Oakland will field one of the better defensive units in the

Perhaps that fact won’t resonate
with everyone since defense is clearly the least
sexy aspect of baseball.  But if that
underappreciated side of the game leads to the A’s shaving half a run off our
pitching staff’s ERA, don’t be surprised if that change in run differential
results in more victories this season.  
So as you watch the remaining NFL playoff games this month leading to
February’s Super Bowl, maybe you should take that age-old football cheer to
heart, and adopt it at the Coliseum this summer…..Let’s hear it:  “Defense! 
Defense!  Defense”!


Leo Durocher, the former major
league manager, was fond of saying that “nice guys finish last.”  Well, this week’s Oakland A’s award winners may serve as
Exhibit A and Exhibit B in disproving Durocher’s claim. 


When Andrew Bailey (right) was named American League Rookie of the

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Year Monday
and then we learned Tuesday that
Keith Lieppman
had received the Chief Bender Award–baseball’s top lifetime achievement award
for player development–the reaction from friends and co-workers was the
same.  It was pure joy and
exhilaration.  It seemed everyone was genuinely thrilled to hear
the news, which in a way, may have served as the greatest tribute of all for both


For Bailey, we were flooded
with phone calls and emails from people he had touched on his path to the big
Shawn Touney, the media relations director at Single-A Kane
County, sent me a glowing note saying everyone associated with Andrew’s old
team was thrilled for him.  Even his old
coach and sports information director at Wagner
College (Staten Island, NY)
could not contain their excitement and felt compelled to contact us.  Of course, what’s not to like about a pitcher
who, minutes after learning he had won the Rookie of the Year award, is calling
many of his former minor league instructors to thank them for helping him win the award? 

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And then there’s Lieppman (right) –he
shares the same nickname (“The Lip”) as Durocher–who may even be a nicer guy
than Bailey if that’s possible.  I just
got a phone call from
Monte Moore, the former legendary
A’s broadcaster.  He wanted to get
Keith’s email address so he could drop him a congratulatory note.


Monte, now semi-retired and
living in Porterville, shared one rather
incredible story about Lieppman that dates back to his Little League days in Kansas City.  “This is even before I started broadcasting Kansas City A’s games,”
said Monte.  “I was sports director of a
radio station in town and we held this promotion on the lawn called ‘Strikeout
Sam.’  We had this framed strike zone for
kids to throw the ball through.  We
invited all Little Leaguers in Kansas
City to participate and they all got 10 pitches.   And who wins the contest?  A youngster named Keith Lieppman!”  Little did Monte or anyone else know that the
Lip would eventually begin a long association with the Athletics that will
reach 40 years this spring.  Lieppman, a journalism
graduate of the University
of Kansas, began his A’s
career as a player in 1971.  Later he became
a manager in the Oakland
minor league system before becoming the organization’s director of player
development, a position he has held for 19 years. 


Suffice it to say, he spans virtually the entire A’s
history in Oakland,
making a profound impact on the lives of literally thousands of young men and coaches. 
In many ways, he is the Oakland A’s!  So congratulations, Lip.  It’s comforting to know that nice guys can
actually finish first!


When you finish in last
place in the American League West, 12 games under .500 and 22 games behind the
division-leading Angels, there’s not a lot of wiggle room in explaining how
your team fell short. 


I guess the big question is,
which A’s team will show up next season–the one that fell out of contention
early or the one that went 38-38 and led the American League in doubles and
stolen bases and ranked third in both batting average and hits after the
All-Star Break?  There are credible
baseball people outside our
organization who believe we have a bright future.


In a San
Francisco Chronicle
story written by Susan Slusser in September, here’s
what some these sources said about Oakland’s
fast-maturing roster:


  • “It’s an impressive haul.  It’s one of the best collections of
    talent in baseball,”
    -Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus analyst


  • “I don’t think they’re far away from being a
    real good club.  All those young
    pitchers they have are learning on the job and they’ll be so much better
    for it.”
    -Dan O’Dowd, Colorado
    Rockies GM


  • “The Oakland
    A’s have become a big player in the international market.  Billy (Beane) is all in.  He’s never going to be caught in
    no-man’s land…if these guys stay healthy and continue to develop, you’ll
    see the fruits of the labor.  Fast
    forward a year and the picture will look so much better.” 
    Cashman, New York
    Yankees GM


  • “(Trevor) Cahill and (Brett) Anderson can fit into the top half of
    even a very good rotation.  And they
    hit on Andrew Bailey.”
    -Keith Law, analyst


Not to belabor the point,
but look at some of these numbers after the All-Star Break: 


Player                                     Post-ASB

Rajai Davis, cf                                   .325, 42 RBI,
30 SB

Ryan Sweeney, rf                              .319, 20 doubles,
31 RBI

Eric Patterson, lf-2b                          .302

Kurt Suzuki, c                                     .250, 10 HR, 51 RBI

Adam Kennedy, 3b                           .288,
32 RBI

Daric Barton, 1b                                .287, 23 RBI

Mark Ellis, 2b                                     .279, 7 HR,
43 RBI

Cliff Pennington, ss                           .279,
21 RBI, 32-game errorless streak

Brett Anderson, lhp                            6-4, 3.48 ERA

Trevor Cahill, rhp                                5-5, 4.59 ERA

Andrew Bailey, rhp                            16-for-16 in saves,
1.71 ERA

Craig Breslow, lhp                             7-3, 2.29 ERA

Michael Wuertz, rhp                           1-0,
2.25 ERA

Brad Ziegler, rhp                                1-1, 2.81 ERA


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