A's Blast Giants, Show There Are Thrills In the Unknown
There were many questions to be answered as the youthful Oakland Athletics opened the Bay Bridge Series on Thursday night in San Francisco against the Giants.
The Giants? They're about as known a commodity as can be found in the big leagues. Brilliant young pitchers, Pablo Sandoval -- and maybe Buster Posey -- provide about all the excitement that comes from players who haven't shown their stuff or haven't reached their peak. The rest of the roster will be filled with guys who have shown over time their strengths and their fatal flaws.
The A's beat the Giants 9-0 and showed that, really, the sky is the limit for a team that features a versatile, youthful offense and a defense that will help what has become an even stronger starting rotation after veteran Justin Duchscherer's six strong innings against San Francisco.
Duchscherer's mentally and physically ready this season. He shut the Giants out for six on Thursday. He'll support young aces Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden.
Kid pitchers are lined up to fill in the final two rotation spots. The biggest concern the A's have is whether Ben Sheets can get it together to justify the big free agent salary he received. He had an abysmal spring.
It's in the everyday lineup that the A's provide the thrill of the unknown.
Young Daric Barton seems ready to provide the power the middle of the lineup needs at first base. If Eric Chavez stays healthy, fans will have one of their all-time A's favorites around -- and his productive bat. No one knows for sure if Barton's for real or if Chavez can stay healthy. It'll be fun for A's fans finding out.
Shortstop Cliff Pennington is a superior defender and provides speed in a lineup that won't be loaded with three-run home runs. Pennington, 25, is in his first full season as a big leaguer. There's no certainty he'll succeed, but he gives the A's more hope at the position than the Giants have in aging Edgar Renteria.
The addition of veteran third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff provides a proven hitter and ends any notion that Chavez has to return and play third. He joins veteran Mark Ellis at second base to form an infield that is equal parts veterans and unproven newcomers. Catcher Kurt Suzuki's one of the best playing the position in the AL.
Speedy left fielder Rajai Davis, center fielder Coco Crisp and right fielder Ryan Sweeney will cover the cavernous Oakland Coliseum outfield. Davis is the lone legitimate base-stealing threat in the San Francisco Bay area. Sweeney can make a run at hitting .300 and his 31 doubles last year show he can hit more than the six home runs he collected in 2009.
The A's outfielder who will create all sorts of excitement in Oakland this summer is 6-foot-6, 265-pound Michael Taylor. He'll start the season in the minor leagues, but this is a stud who won't be in Sacramento at Class AAA for long. He's 24 years old and only the fact that the A's don't want to start his arbitration clock sooner than necessary is keeping him in the minor leagues.
While the cross-bay rival Giants are waiting for top prospects in Class AA or lower, 6-foot-5 first baseman Chris Carter is in Class AAA awaiting the call. Or, waiting for the A's to slow his arbitration clock and find a way to utilize his bat in the same lineup with Barton.
Taylor and Carter are both expected in Oakland this season and some insiders at the ball park on Thursday that, unless they struggle mightily in Sacramento, they could be up by June. If they're up and ready in June, the A's will be contending for the AL West title.
Excitement awaits when Taylor and Carter arrive. It's unknown when they'll get to Oakland. Every game the A's win before those two arrive provides the possibility for bigger thrills down the stretch.
The A's have built a young bullpen led by AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey. If there is a weakness, it's in the pen where arm injuries have slowed some of the top prospects.
A's fans got an early look at what their summer could be like on Thursday. And, they got a look at what it would be like to have their club trot out a young star like Pablo Sandoval with a bunch of older, slower veterans who don't have anybody like Taylor or Carter waiting to make the leap from Class AAA.
The A's will be in the AL West race. If Taylor and Carter hit it big this year, Oakland could win the division. (Oh, they'll bring the 3-run home runs with them.)
Nobody knows how it'll turn out, but the A's will make things exciting as their fans slowly begin to figure things out.