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Nice article from the NY Times

OAFC BBS - All Topics: Archive: Nice article from the NY Times
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message   By eyleenn on Tuesday, July 26, 2005 - 10:54 am:

July 26, 2005
A's Still Go by the Book, Having a Ball With Little Money
WHEN Billy Beane awoke yesterday, his team was tied with the Minnesota Twins for the American League wild-card lead, half a game ahead of the Yankees. Did he ever think, Beane was asked, that his poor Oakland Athletics would be in a playoff race with the obscenely wealthy Yankees?

"Oh, gosh," he responded. "I'd love to tell Brian Cashman that. I wonder if they ever thought that they would be in a playoff race with us."

Beane, the general manager of the A's, laughed, thinking how that would sound to Cashman, the Yankees' general manager and his good friend.

Cashman hasn't had a chance to laugh too often this season. The Yankees' injured starting pitchers and dreadful middle relievers have made it hard for him to smile even occasionally. Other general managers, of course, don't feel sorry for him. They would like the opportunity to struggle with a $200 million payroll.

The Athletics are playing the game this season with a $55 million payroll, one of the 10 smallest in the major leagues. As they have for a number of years, the Athletics are contending because they are operated intelligently. Like General Manager Terry Ryan in Minnesota, Beane deftly uses the money available to him to put together a good team.

Other teams lament their lack of fortune but don't seem to have a basic plan to build a decent group of players. They either change plans midstream, or they shed their good young players prematurely, thinking they won't be able to afford to keep them into their free-agency years.

Last off-season, Beane traded two of the team's three outstanding pitchers, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. As a result, the Athletics were given no chance of contending this season for the American League West division title or the A.L. wild card. Here they are, though, leading the wild-card race by a half-game after last night's 13-4 victory while the Yankees challenge the Red Sox for the A.L. East title.

It wasn't this way all season for the Athletics. After a loss on May 29, they were 17-32. Their dismal record was reflected in the records of the individual pitchers: Barry Zito, the lone remaining member of the three pitching musketeers, was 1-6; Danny Haren, acquired in the Mulder deal with St. Louis, was 1-7; Joe Blanton, a rookie replacement for Hudson, was 0-5; Kirk Saarloos, a 2004 addition to the staff, was 1-4.

Today, Blanton is 5-8, Haren 8-7, Saarloos 6-6, and Zito is 9-8 after the A's victory over Cleveland. Combined, their 25-7 record since May 29 was reflective of the team's performance since that date, a 37-13 run that has propelled them from last place in the four-team A.L. West, 12½ games behind the first-place Los Angeles Angels, into second place, five behind the Angels, and into the lead in the wild-card race.

"The biggest thing is health," Beane said, explaining the team's turnaround in a telephone interview yesterday. "I didn't think there was a sense of panic around the organization. The frustrating thing is if you're playing poorly and can't explain it, but we had the worst amount of injuries we've had in my 17 years here."

Shortstop Bobby Crosby, last season's A.L. rookie of the year, discovered after this season's opening game that he had two fractured ribs, and he didn't play again until May 30. It is no coincidence that May 30 was the day the Athletics began their rise toward contending status. Crosby, with a .312 batting average, is the team's only .300 hitter.

Nick Swisher, a rookie right fielder, missed most of May with a shoulder injury. Erubiel Durazo, the designated hitter, has been out since May 25 with an elbow injury; last week, the team announced that the injury would require a season-ending operation. Octavio Dotel, the closer, has missed more than two months; he had reconstructive surgery on his right elbow in June.

Rich Harden, the No. 2 starter, strained an oblique muscle and sat out from May 14 to June 21. In seven starts since his return, Harden is 6-1 with a 1.77 earned run average and a .145 batting average against him.

Huston Street, a rookie, has become the closer and has compiled a 1.47 E.R.A. Justin Duchscherer, a setup reliever, has a 1.84 E.R.A. and made the All-Star team.

Like the Braves in the National League, the Athletics have done well with rookies and other young players. Street, Blanton, Swisher, reliever Keiichi Yabu and first baseman Dan Johnson are rookies. Haren began the season with less than a full season's experience in the majors; Harden, Crosby, Saarloos and Duchscherer have not had a lot of major league experience.

"I told Bobby Crosby," Beane said, "the best indication of how well you play in your rookie year is how many games you play. If you're a pitcher and you start in the rotation and end up in the rotation, it's been a pretty successful year. We want them to be better in September than they were in April."

Knowing that they can't compete in the open market for free agents, the Athletics have developed their own players, including third baseman Eric Chavez, who struggled early this season. In the first 47 games, Chavez batted .211 with 4 home runs and 20 runs batted in. In 52 games since, beginning May 28, he has hit .328 with 13 homers and 40 R.B.I.

"The only one who ever gets concerned about that, because he does it every year, is Eric," Beane said. "He's just 27 years old. He gets frustrated with himself. He has a track record filled with 30-homer seasons and Gold Gloves."

Beane and the Athletics have produced their own track record, and they're on that track once again.

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