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Showdown in Oak Town

Posted By Cliff Corcoran On September 2, 2005 @ 4:43 pm In Bronx Banter | Comments Disabled

The A’s and Yankees enter this weekend’s series with identical 75-58 records, tied for third best in the American League, the lead in the Wild Card race, and in the case of the A’s, with the Angels for lead in the AL West. It’s a rather stunning accomplishment considering how badly both teams stumbled out of the gate.

For the A’s, their lowest point came after an eight-game losing streak in late May. After losing to the Indians on May 29, the A’s were 17-32 (.347). Since then they are 58-26 (.690).* I’m not entirely sure that it’s a coincidence that May 30 was the day that the A’s activated their 25-year-old shortstop and number-three hitter, Bobby Crosby, from the disabled list.

Crosby started the A’s opening day loss to the Orioles in Baltimore, but was removed mid-game and placed on the DL due to a stress fracture of his ribs that had resulted from being hit by a pitch in spring training. The A’s had lost their last eight games prior to Crosby being activated at the end of may, but with him in the line-up, Oakland ran off four straight wins, with Crosby getting a hit in each. Crosby proceeded to hit .337/.394/.568 (.319 GPA) through the end of June as the A’s finished the month with an eight-game wining streak, the last seven games of which also saw Crosby hit safely.

Bobby fell off some from that point hitting (.260/.333/.431 – .258) in July and August, but his presence in the line-up and Gold Glove-worthy defense at shortstop (112 Rate) remained a key part of the A’s success, as they started the second half with seven straight series wins (20-4, .833). Well, last Saturday, Baltimore struck again as Crosby suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left ankle when he slid into Sal Fasano at home plate. Crosby is now back on the disabled list and the A’s are unsure if he will return before the end of the regular season.

Thus far the A’s have done well in his absence. With Crosby still at short, the A’s followed their remarkable start to the second half of the season by dropping series to the Twins, Orioles and Royals and losing the opening game of a series in Detroit, a 2-8 stretch, only to recover and with their next four games, the last of which was the game in which Crosby broke his ankle.

With Crosby on the shelf, the A’s completed a four-game sweep of the O’s and then dropped a hard-fought and well-pitched three-game set to the rival Angels, in which aggregate score of the entire series was 6-3 Angels, with A’s winning the first game in eleven innings and the Angels taking the last two. Thus it’s difficult to say whether or not the Yankees, who are 5-1 against the A’s this season having played all six games against them during Crosby’s absence in May, are returning to Oakland at an advantageous time or not. In a sense, this series will be a greater test for Oakland than it will be for the Yankees. In addition to Crosby, the A’s are likely to be without center fielder and number-two hitter Mark Kotsay for at least the first two games due to back spasms. Kotsay last played on Sunday in Baltimore and received an epidural injection on Wednesday. The A’s are also playing without their young ace Rich Harden, who has missed his last two starts due to a strained right lat and is likely to miss at least one more. With harden out a month due to a strained left oblique suffered in a start against the Yankees in Oakland on May 14, the A’s went 17-19 (including losing that game against the Yankees). They later won Harden’s first three starts (and seven of his first eight) after being activated.

These injuries to Crosby, Kotsay and Harden, along with the just completed series loss to the Angels which erased the A’s lead in the West, could put the young A’s into a psychological funk. As Barry Zito told MLB.com [1], “Potentially it could bring us down, but we’ve faced adversity before and come through it. Granted we sucked the last time we had a bunch of guys on the DL, but now we have some momentum. We’ve been picking each other up for the past two months.”

As it turns out, Marco Scutaro has been almost as solid as Crosby in the field (108 Rate at shortstop), and the Yankees would have missed Harden’s turn in the rotation this weekend even if he had been healthy. The Yankees will also miss Joe Blanton, who along with Harden has formed a new trio of aces with Sunday’s starter, Barry Zito.

Hot on the heels of those three aces, however, is tonight’s starter, Dan Haren. Haren will oppose Al Leiter, who is coming off six ugly two-hit innings against the Royals, proceeded by a relatively efficient seven innings against the Blue Jays. The way the pitching rotations fell this weekend may not be ideal for either team, but no matter what happens this weekend there should be a playoff atmosphere in Oakland as the odds are the team that wins the series will emerge with the lead in the Wild Card race (though a poor performance by the Angels against the Mariners this weekend could put the A’s in the AL West lead and thus Yankees in the Wild Card lead regardless of the series outcome, but we’ll ignore that for now).

Oakland A’s

2005 Record: 75-58 (.564)
2005 Pythagorean Record: 79-54 (.595)

Manager: Ken Macha
General Manager: Billy Beane

Ballpark (2004 park factors): McAfee Coliseum (101/101)

Who has replaced whom?

Jay Payton replaced Eric Byrnes (Orioles)
Dan Johnson replaced Erubiel Durazo (DL)
Nick Swisher (DL) replaced Charles Thomas (minors)
Freddie Bynum replaced Jermaine Clark (minors)
Joe Kennedy replaced Octavio Dotel (DL)
Jay Witasick replaced Juan Cruz (call-up)

September Call-ups:

L – Matt Watson (OF)
R – Alberto Castillo (C)
R – Juan Cruz

Current Roster:

1B – Dan Johnson
2B – Mark Ellis
SS – Marco Scutaro
3B – Eric Chavez
C – Jason Kendall
RF – Nick Swisher
CF – Mark Kotsay
LF – Jay Payton
DH – Bobby Kielty

Bench:

L – Scott Hatteberg (1B)
R – Keith Ginter (IF)
S – Adam Melhuse (C)
L – Freddie Bynum (IF)
L – Matt Watson (OF)
R – Alberto Castillo (C)

Rotation:

L – Barry Zito
R – Joe Blanton
L – Joe Kennedy
R – Dan Haren
R – Kirk Saarloos

R – Rich Harden (injured)

Bullpen:

R – Huston Street
R – Justin Duchscherer
L – Ricardo Rincon
R – Kiko Calero
R – Keiichi Yabu
R – Jay Witasick
R – Juan Cruz

DL:

R – Bobby Crosby (SS)
R – Octavio Dotel
L – Erubiel Durazo (DH) (60-day)

Typical Line-up:

R – Jason Kendall (C)
L – Mark Kotsay (CF)
L – Eric Chavez (3B)
L – Dan Johnson (1B)
R – Jay Payton (LF)
S – Bobby Kielty (DH)
S – Nick Swisher (RF)
R – Mark Ellis (2B)
R – Marco Scutaro (SS)

Typical Line-up without Kotsay:

R – Jason Kendall (C)
R – Mark Ellis (2B)
L – Eric Chavez (3B)
L – Dan Johnson (1B)
R – Jay Payton (CF)
L – Scott Hatteberg (DH)
S – Bobby Kielty (LF)
S – Nick Swisher (RF)
R – Marco Scutaro (SS)

* By comparison, the Yankees, who never reached such a nadir, are 36-19 (.655) since they last had a .500 record on July 1.


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[1] MLB.com: http://oakland.athletics.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/news/article.jsp?ymd=20050831&content_id=1191981&vkey=news_oak&fext=.jsp&c_id=oak

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