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Better Know A Rival: Oakland A's

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Let's continue. In case you missed it, here's the Angels piece from this morning.

Starting Lineup

C Kurt Suzuki
1B Daric Barton
2B Mark Ellis
SS Cliff Pennington
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
LF Josh Willingham
CF Coco Crisp
RF David DeJesus
DH Hideki Matsui

OFFENSE

A year ago, the A's had trouble pushing runs across the plate, and their offensive inadequacy caused them to drop out of the race. So in the offseason, the front office aggressively set about addressing that concern. The A's lost Jack Cust, but they also added Matsui as a free agent and Willingham and DeJesus through trades, and all of a sudden they look to have a lineup that might actually strike some fear in someone.

Much like the Angels, the A's aren't going to feature a lineup with any superstars in the middle. But Barton, Willingham, DeJesus and Matsui form a solid core just like Anaheim's, and it's tough to be too down on the supporting cast. Suzuki's better than he looked last year, Kouzmanoff's better than he looked last year, and even if Pennington isn't better than he looked last year, he's a shortstop with decent on-base skills. There's not a black hole to be found.

The Oakland offense isn't going to wow anybody, but it'll be better than it was last season, and they have a fair bit of depth in the event that someone gets hurt or violently ill. Look for a vaguely league-averageish performance, with error bars extending in either direction.

DEFENSE

The only liability on the entire field will be Willingham, and Ryan Sweeney will be available off the bench to take his place in the critical later innings. The team returns every part of an infield that last year was far and away the best in the league with the glove. The A's allowed a .205 average on groundballs as a team, versus a .213 mark for second place and a .235 mark for the league. Combine that infield with Crisp and DeJesus and you've got a unit that's going to give the pitching staff an awful lot of help. Most of these guys can move around.

Pitching Staff

Rotation

SP Trevor Cahill
SP Dallas Braden
SP Brett Anderson
SP Gio Gonzalez
SP Brandon McCarthy

Bullpen

RP Andrew Bailey
RP Brian Fuentes
RP Grant Balfour
RP Michael Wuertz
RP Craig Breslow

STARTING ROTATION

On paper, Oakland's starters certainly don't have much in the way of sex appeal. There's no Felix. There's no Jered Weaver. There's no Dan Haren. There's no clear-cut ace, no matter what Trevor Cahill's ERA might suggest.

But what this is is a rotation that goes four deep in quality arms. Anderson has all the stuff to be dominant if he's managed to put last year's elbow problems behind him. Gonzalez is better than a guy with his command probably ought to be. And while neither Cahill nor Braden do much in the way of missing bats, they do enough of the other things to remain perfectly effective.

As with most any rotation, the #5 spot is a question mark. McCarthy hasn't walked a batter all spring, but he's fragile and didn't pitch in the bigs all last year. Beyond him, the organization isn't overflowing with other options, although Rich Harden's hanging around and trying to get healthy and Josh Outman is back from Tommy John surgery. Anyway, given sufficient health, Oakland's rotation should be all right. The defense will make it look better than it is, but it's also better than you might assume it is off the top of your head.

BULLPEN

I think I like the talent level in Oakland's bullpen every year, and this year looks no different. There are health questions about Bailey and Wuertz among the upper group, but they'll be supported by acquisitions Fuentes and Balfour, and beyond these five, the organization also has a bunch of other candidates like Joey Devine, Brad Ziegler, Jerry Blevins, Tyson Ross, and so on and so forth.

There are almost too many talented relievers here for this not to be a strength. No matter what Bob Geren needs done, his bullpen will have at least an arm or two that can do it, and it would take some monumental bad luck or a collapsing light fixture for the A's to end up with too few solid options in relief.

OVERALL

The A's have become a popular national pick to challenge the Rangers in the division. Maybe too popular, because while the A's are good, I'm not convinced they're Texas-good. There aren't many holes. Their defense is solid. Their bullpen is solid. Their rotation's all right. Their lineup's all right. But they don't have much in the way of star power, and it's those stars that are so important to push a team to 90 wins and beyond. Spreading the wealth could work. The odd surprise performance or breakthrough would come in real handy. Just make sure you understand that this team is still an underdog.