Athletics hope to follow Giants formula in 2011
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – The Oakland Athletics only have to look across San Francisco Bay to see what can happen when a team adds a few veteran bats to a young and talented starting rotation.
Now the A’s have to hope that additions like Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham can do as much for them as Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross and Pat Burrell did for the World Series champion Giants just a year ago.
“We have a good team,” manager Bob Geren said. “The offseason was fun because every time we acquired somebody, via trade like DeJesus or a free agent like Matsui, it felt like with every building block we kept getting stronger and stronger.”
Geren compared the moves his team made to the transformation the Giants underwent last year, when a few under-the-radar moves turned one of the league’s worst offenses into one good enough to make Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Co. world champions.
“The extra pieces of offense along with what they already had propelled them into the playoffs and the World Series,” Geren said. “I guess you could make a parallel with what we acquired this winter and adding a few more pieces of offense.”
Oakland finished 11th in the AL last year in runs scored, and second-to-last in homers and slugging as the lack of production from their outfield was a major reason the team that had the best ERA from its starting staff in the majors ended up finishing .500 instead of playing deep into October.
That led to the trades that brought in DeJesus and Willingham as the starting corner outfielders and the one-year, $4.25 million deal to sign Matsui as the A’s new designated hitter.
General manager Billy Beane also added depth to the bullpen by acquiring four-time All-Star closer Brian Fuentes and hard-throwing Grant Balfour as set-up men for two-time All-Star Andrew Bailey.
“We’ve got a bullpen put together where the game is – in all seriousness – almost five innings for a starter,” said Dallas Braden, whose perfect game against Tampa Bay last May was the highlight of the 2010 season. “With the options we have lined up there, that’s ridiculous. When we can put up runs and add some arms to the mix, that’s when our chances get a lot better. That’s all stuff that’s still on paper. It’s all great in theory. We have all the components. We need to put them all together, though, and see how they run.”
While the club made moves to upgrade the offense and add depth to the bullpen this offseason, the strength of the team remains a starting rotation that features four players age 27 or younger who had an ERA of 3.50 or better last season. That gave Oakland exactly one-quarter of the AL pitchers who achieved that mark in at least 100 innings.
Trevor Cahill made the All-Star team in his second big-league season, going 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA and receiving three votes for the Cy Young award. Despite those lofty numbers, he might not even be the A’s most talented pitcher.
Brett Anderson was the more heralded prospect and went 7-6 with a 2.80 ERA in 19 starts despite two DL stints with left elbow inflammation.
Gio Gonzalez was 15-9 with a 3.23 ERA and got better as the year went on, posting a 2.59 ERA in the second half of the season.
Then there’s the old man of the group, Braden, who struggled a bit after his perfect game but still is an effective pitcher.
“They’re so talented,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “I don’t think they realize and other people realize how special they are. But they have to keep trying to get better. Who knows what they are capable of?”
While Oakland’s rotation gets far less hype than the ones in San Francisco and Philadelphia, the A’s starters had the lowest ERA in the majors last season at 3.47.
But the Giants and Phillies both have pitched deep into October, which is what the group in Oakland might need to do in order to get the notoriety it deserves.
“It feels like we’re still out there trying to make a playoff run,” Gonzalez said. “We still want to produce and do our stuff now. Obviously we’re still the underdogs. We’re still kind of in the shadows with every other team now. We’re just trying to come out a little bit and show what we’ve been working with. Working with the starting rotation and trying to be a part of it is pretty exciting.”
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.
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Fueled in part by Tampa Bay’s surprise victory in the Super Bowl, Nevada sports books recorded their fourth-highest win of all time in January.