By Jason Wojciechowski on September 12, 2011 at 1:45 AM
Like that, with a blowout loss to the Rangers in Arlington fed in no small part by Adrian Beltre's Superman act, Oakland finds itself 16.5 games behind the first-place Rangers with sixteen games left on its schedule. Another way to look at it: the A's best possible record is 82-80, and the Rangers already have 83 wins. (The wild card leader (for now!) is Boston with 85 wins.)
I mentioned before that the season wasn't a hopeless one to start. The team looked to have good pitching, had some solid on-base sources at the top of the order (Coco Crisp, Daric Barton), and had added some contact hitting (Hideki Matsui) and power (Josh Willingham; also Matsui, though the power expectations were lower).
This didn't work out. I'm not doing an analysis here (I'd prefer to wait for the actual end of the season for that), but the A's underperformed both what we might have expected them to do (Matsui's brutal first half), what we might have hoped them to do (Cahill's return to earth), and even what they've actually done (they are, per Baseball Prospectus, three to five wins below where they "should" be based on combinations of their actual runs scored, component stats, and opponent quality). Add on top of that the Rangers' continued dominance, not least of the A's themselves, and you've got a season that was lost by the time the Ides of June1 rolled around.
A's fans, I sense, are starting to feel a little despair. Last year's run to .500 doesn't mask that the 2007-2011 portion of Oakland's franchise index looks remarkably samey: .469, .466, .463, .500, .455 go the winning percentages. Billy Beane is publicly complaining about the stadium situation and the Cubs job is open, and even if Beane didn't wind up there, who knows what other openings GM movement into Chicago could create. Alternative anxiety for those who think Beane has left the A's to be latchkey kids in the last few years: David Forst should be considered strongly for the Cubs spot if all the nice things everyone says about him are true.
Of course, the flip-side is the ever-present group of fans who think that Beane's wizardry is mere flim-flam, a product of good drafting and player development in the late '90s, not proto-2% genius. With Beane a part-owner of this franchise, it's small wonder this segment of the A's fanbase has any hope left at all -- it surely feels that Beane is here until it's more profitable to move elsewhere, and with the A's reeling in the profit-sharing money year after year while cutting costs to the bone, there's no reason to think that Beane's 2.5% stake isn't paying some pretty nice dividends for a flamed-out high-school draftee of the Mets.
On-field reinforcements aren't coming any time soon: Brett Anderson will miss the first half of the year recovering from his Tommy John surgery; any time a pitcher, soft-tosser like Dallas Braden or no, has shoulder surgery, you do more hoping and praying than projecting; Josh Willingham should probably get out of Oakland to preserve his mental health; Brandon Allen and Michael Taylor and Chris Carter probably top out around average if things break right, considering position and defense; Jemile Weeks is destined to be a .320 OBP guy who we constantly think could flip the proverbial switch and become an elite leadoff hitter; Michael Choice won't even hit Midland until 2012 and struck out 1/3 of the time against the motley crew of nonprospects and projects known as Cal League pitching staffs; Grant Green is learning a new position and failed to see his power come with him from Stockton to Midland; and there aren't any obvious bounce-back candidates already on the team -- Kurt Suzuki and Cliff Pennington and Scott Sizemore are what they are.
Is there hope? We can find glimmers outside the organization. For Texas, CJ Wilson is a free agent, Adrian Beltre and Michael Young are old and tethered to long-term contracts, and Josh Hamilton is a serious breakdown candidate. In Anaheim, not only is Vernon Wells still on the squad, but the management team that thought trading Mike Napoli for him is still in place. Seattle seems to have whiffed on Justin Smoak, and Felix Hernandez might be traded. On top of this, Houston could be joining the division.
(None of this is fair to those teams, of course -- Texas has top-notch management and player development to replace whatever it loses; the Angels have a wicked one-two punch in the rotation; the Mariners have created a nice corps of young talent out of thin air (especially getting Trayvon Robinson from the Dodgers for jack squat); and Houston is soon to be under new ownership and new management, and will have the luxury of being essentially tied with Dallas for the biggest media market in the division.2)
The A's aren't going to be building a powerhouse any time soon. Jason Giambi isn't walking through that door. But so what? Billy Beane can build a .500 team, and a .500 team can catch breaks. It's not exactly a recipe for sustained success, but it has been and will continue to be enough for springtime to fill me with fuzzy feelings of autumn possibilities again come next March.