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Oakland A’s: 5 Things to Look for in Upcoming Series vs. Houston Astros

After taking two of three against the Baltimore Orioles to open up the second half of the season, the Oakland Athletics host a three-game set against the Houston Astros, starting Tuesday. Houston visits the American League West leaders a mere 20.5 games back—however, the Astros proudly only sport the league’s second-worst record (41-58).

The A’s deserve some much-needed face time against the bottom-feeders, particularly after three consecutive series against teams (the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles) that would be headed to the playoffs, were the season to end today. Oakland has not played a team with a non-winning record since June 29, when the A’s faced the Miami Marlins. In fact, the Athletics have faced the fewest sub-.500 opponents in all of the American League and sport a 25-12 record against teams with losing records. Oakland is thirsting for a few gimmes.

It would appear that the two-time division champs will be welcoming an easy go of it against the Astros. After all, Oakland thoroughly dominated Houston last season, going 15-4 versus their new division rivals, winning each of the first 10 matchups. Will the Athletics have an easy go of it against the perennially moribund Astros?

This season, the Astros are seemingly over-performing, already winning two out of seven games they have played against the A’s so far.

Surely, Houston has proved that it has improved—even just a little bit. The Astros roster is a smidge different than it was earlier this season. By adding a couple upcoming youngsters, the Astros seem to be at least watchable, if only somewhat.

Here are five things to look for in the Athletics’ upcoming series versus Houston.

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Oakland A’s: 5 Things Learned from Series vs. Los Angeles Angels

It’s always quite an intense battle between these two California foes. The Bay Area’s Oakland Athletics taking on SoCal’s Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim in a matchup between the American League West’s top two teams; and the series was every bit as competitive as expected between these intrastate adversaries.

Though the 2014 campaign is just approaching mid-June, there was a September-like atmosphere at Angel Stadium the past few days. The Athletics entered Monday’s opener leading the West, with a 4.5-game lead over the second-place Angels. The Angels, who want to legitimately contend for a division title this year, needed to improve their record against the Athletics. Los Angeles was 11-18 against the West—1-5 versus Oakland—entering the series.

But the Angels took care of business on their home turf, where they are 20-14 this season—the second-best mark in the AL. Los Angeles won two of three against the A’s to cut its deficit to 3.5 games.

It was a hard-fought series on both sides, where every pitch, every play, every baserunning decision seemed to factor into the outcome of each game. The best part is that there are three more series between these two teams in the second half of the season.

But that’s all in the future.

Here are five things learned from the past series between the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels.

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MLB: Fantasy Baseball Owners Pick Up Oakland A’s OF Craig Gentry off Waivers

The Oakland Athletics announced Tuesday that they are placing outfielder Josh Reddick on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive June 1. Reddick hyperextended his left knee in Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels.

Both A’s fans and fantasy baseball managers rejoice!

The 27-year-old Reddick has struggled for most of the season. Though he has been in the zone a few times thus far, these stretches have unfortunately come infrequently and not lasted for very long. His season numbers include a pathetic slash line of .214/.279/.339, with 41 strikeouts in 2014. Athletics manager Bob Melvin has to cringe each time Reddick clocks in an 0-for-4 day at the plate.

As grotesque as Reddick’s statistics are for a big league manager to look at, they’re even worse, if that’s possible, coming from the point of view of a fantasy baseball manager. Reddick’s terrible plate discipline and pitch recognition result in just 14 bases on balls. His low on-base percentage means that he only has 19 runs scored this season. And he has recorded just one lonesome stolen base—the same number as his un-fleet teammates John Jaso, Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson, and one fewer than catcher Derek Norris.

Thus, Reddick’s stint on the disabled list will benefit fantasy owners who pick up Craig Gentry. The Athletics’ backup outfielder will undoubtedly receive the brunt of the playing time during Reddick’s time away: Fantasy owners should snare Gentry off the waiver wire right away.

Gentry has seen the playing field quite a bit this season as the fourth outfielder off the bench. Due to injuries to Reddick and Coco Crisp, Gentry has appeared in 41 of Oakland’s 57 games, and that’s after missing the first couple of weeks of the season nursing his own injury. Now that he is at full strength, Gentry is proving to be a major contributor to the A’s.

The 30-year-old has scored 21 runs, two more than Reddick, in just 100 at-bats. And fantasy owners will enjoy Gentry’s speed on the basepaths—nine stolen bases this season without being caught. Look for Gentry to have a bright green light anytime he has a stolen base opportunity.

One important factor for fantasy managers is Oakland’s penchant for platooning players. Oakland is expected to match up against three left-handed starters on its current nine-game road trip. On Wednesday, the A’s are scheduled to face New York Yankees lefty Vidal Nuno. Then they will see Wei-Yin Chen sometime during their visit to the Baltimore Orioles, and possibly Angels lefty Tyler Skaggs in Anaheim.

Fortunately for fantasy owners and for the right-handed hitting Gentry, he also hits righties well enough to be in the starting lineup every day. This season, Gentry is batting .260 against lefties and .280 against right-handers. In a larger sample size, over the previous three seasons, he hit .298 versus lefties and .278 versus righties.

Not bad. Melvin has slotted Gentry into Tuesday night’s lineup against Yankees righty Hiroki Kuroda.

Though he has not faced any of the Yankees starters in his career, Gentry has had decent success in limited at-bats against Baltimore’s starter and, in particular, the Angels’ starters. Expect to start Gentry throughout the Anaheim series, as Gentry is a combined 8-for-17 against Skaggs, Garrett Richards and Jered Weaver.

If you are in a pinch for an extra outfielder, especially for American League-only fantasy leagues, Gentry should be one to consider picking up. With guys like Shane Victorino and Mike Carp (Boston), Carlos Beltran (Yankees) and Wil Myers (Rays) on the DL, and day-to-day availability of Sam Fuld (Twins), James Jones (Mariners) and Michael Choice (Rangers), nabbing Gentry is an easy safety net for those who don’t have the luxury of re-activating Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton, who are both scheduled to come off the disabled list for the Angels on Tuesday.


Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue

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Oakland A’s: 5 Things to Look for in Series vs. Seattle Mariners

The Oakland A’s deserve some much-needed home cooking, particularly after the grueling three-game series against the Boston Red Sox over the weekend. All three games were intense, as the A’s were strongly tested by the World Series champions.

Oakland escaped with a 10-inning victory on Sunday to take the last game in the series, avoiding a sweep by doing so. Each contest was a struggle for the Athletics. In fact, in all three facets of the game—pitching, hitting and fielding—the A’s were generally outplayed. On the cusp of being swept out of Boston on the heels of an inspiring three-game sweep of their own of the Texas Rangers, it was a great win for the Athletics.

But there is no time to rest and reflect for the A’s. Following their cross-country 10-game road trip, the team immediately flew back to Oakland to begin a 10-game homestand that has a unique twist. Starting Monday, the Seattle Mariners pay another visit to the Oakland Coliseum for four games in three days; a doubleheader is scheduled for Wednesday to atone for the “washout” that occurred in early April.

After this series is over, the A’s will have played the M’s 10 times in their first 45 games this season. The Mariners are obviously a ballclub with which the Athletics are overly familiar.

Here are five things to look for in the upcoming series against the Seattle Mariners.

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Oakland A’s: 5 Things to Look for in Series vs. Los Angeles Angels

Entering the second week of the Major League Baseball season, the Oakland Athletics find themselves in a comfortable spot.

Sitting atop the American League West, the A’s continue their road trip against the formidable Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This marks another early-season test for the Athletics: how will they fare against a team who many believe to be the prohibitive division favorites.

Particularly after an offseason spending spree that saw the Angels land the heaviest of free agent bats for the second year in a row.

But Oakland will look to prove for the umpteenth time that its frugal version of team building brings better results than their free-spending foes. After the A’s snatched the 2012 AL West title, bypassing both the vaunted Angels and Texas Rangers squads, the question this season resurfaces: Can the A’s do it again?

The odds suggest that lightning cannot strike twice in the same spot so quickly.

And the Angels aim to show that last season’s disappointing underachievement was merely a product of unfamiliarity with one another.

This season, however, the Angels have 2012 Rookie of the Year Mike Trout, acclimated Albert Pujols and the talented slugger Josh Hamilton. Hopefully, the Angels will be able to put their pieces together and reach expectations.

Which is not simply the playoffs.

The Angels have assembled the offensive equivalent to the Miami Heat‘s Big Three not to just win the division but to take home the World Series trophy.

And they have a lot to prove, too.

That said, this week’s series versus the Athletics will be an equal test for Los Angeles as it will be for Oakland. And with the recent battles and bad blood between these two ball clubs, it makes for some early April fireworks.

Here are five things to look for in this week’s Athletics-Angels series in Anaheim that starts Tuesday night. 

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Oakland A’s: 5 Roster Considerations for When Manny Ramirez Is Called Up

Everybody has been waiting four months for this day to arrive: The date that Manny Ramirez is eligible to rejoin a major league ballclub.

Last December, Ramirez hinted that he was interested in un-retiring from baseball, following a seven-month absence in light of his positive drug test result during May of 2011, while he was playing for the Tampa Bay Rays.

This past February, Ramirez agreed to a minor league deal with the Oakland Athletics, allowing the beleaguered slugger to attempt to add to his 555 career home runs, pending his service of a 50-game suspension to start the 2012 season.

Fifty games later, and here we are, about to embark on Manny Being Manny: The Summer in Oakland.

Ramirez becomes eligible to play in the big leagues on Wednesday, May 30th—which happens to be his 40th birthday. But as reports, Ramirez will not be activated for the Athletics’ game that day versus the Minnesota Twins.

There are several reasons why he will remain with the A’s Triple-A team, not the least of which is essentially to get his timing down. After all, he has only appeared in eight minor league games, after several weeks working out with the Athletics’ extended spring training squad.

From an individual standpoint, Ramirez simply wants to get himself into perfect major league conditioning—health-wise and hitting-wise. “The more I play, the better I get,” he said to CSN Bay Area.

From the team’s standpoint, however, there are several other factors for keeping Ramirez back for a little while. Specifically, Oakland has quite a few roster and lineup decisions to make as a result of Ramirez’s impending call-up. Who will be moved down for Ramirez? How will the 25-man roster be altered?

Let’s take a look at some questions the A’s will have to answer when Ramirez joins the team—whenever that may be.

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Oakland A’s Relocation: Bud Selig Could Learn from Golden State Warriors’ Move

What a slow and boring past three years it has been for the Oakland Athletics organization regarding its interest in moving to the Silicon Valley.

Three bogus years of contrived interest in solving the issue of the Athletics’ owner Lew Wolff’s desire to move the team down to San Jose. Three years later, and there’s still no resolution. Not even close.

It’s almost as if nothing has happened.

In March of 2009, MLB commissioner Bud Selig appointed a committee to explore options for providing the A’s with a new ballpark—be it in Oakland or in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The hope was that a consensus would be found for what would be the most feasible solution given Wolff’s desire to move to San Jose. Or at least one would assume that some movement would be made in one particular direction—either I-880 North or I-880 South.

But, sorrowfully, seemingly nothing has been decided.

Fast-forward to May 2012, and this relocation issue remains a cold case. Selig’s detectives have come no closer to solving this problem. Though Selig did his first direct comments about the Athletics’ future in quite some time last Thursday, at MLB’s quarterly owners meeting, according to the commissioner, “there’s no timetable” for a judgment on this matter.

Which is the complete opposite of what he should be saying. The A’s need desperately to find a resolution to this problem. This dilly-dallying has completely taken its toll on the franchise as a whole, the team itself and, most importantly, the rabid fans—both the dedicated Oakland fanbase as well as the excited prospect South Bay fans.

Everyone knows about the territorial rights over the city of San Jose that belong to the San Francisco Giants. That has been a poignant factor from the get-go. The Giants have repeatedly affirmed they will not relinquish San Jose to the Athletics. At least, likely, not without some compensation.

But this is where Selig needs to step in and lay down the gauntlet and take a stand one way or the other about this humongous territorial roadblock. That’s what commissioners do—they make the hard decisions, swiftly, with conviction and confidence.

Could you imagine NBA commissioner David Stern dragging his feet in the sand regarding a franchise relocation possibility? No way.

The Seattle SuperSonics disappeared from the Pacific Northwest in the time it takes to finish an NBA postseason schedule—which as we all know is excruciatingly long. Just like that, they were relocated. No waffling. No debate.

And just last season, the Sacramento Kings petitioned to keep their franchise in California’s state capital, a move that Stern approved with uninhibited celerity. Closer to home, on Tuesday, the Golden State Warriors announced plans to relocate to San Francisco, a decision that went from desired rumor to stark reality in seemingly no time.

Yes, the NBA seems to have a firm grasp on how to properly handle relocation issues. No politicking. No preservation of feelings. Just going about the business as if the NBA is—a business.

Go figure.

Meanwhile, business as usual for Selig and MLB is blatant procrastination of a firm decision. On Thursday, Selig basically shrugged his shoulders, contending that Wolff could in essence consider alternative site options anywhere else outside of the Bay Area.

In fact, Selig suggested that Wolff had the authority to move the A’s anywhere, saying, “They could be all over the world, for that matter.”

That ambiguity is often ascribed to Selig’s longtime relationship with his college bud, Wolff. Selig certainly doesn’t want to deny his friend’s ambitions. Which is why the commissioner hasn’t completely shut the door despite the Giants’ territorial rights.

But he also knows not to offend an Oakland fanbase that has loyally stood by the A’s for more than 40 years, creating a support system for six American League pennants, four World Series titles and numerous superstar accolades.

How can Selig unconsciously exile the Athletics, a team with such a storied history? In an area—the East Bay—that has produced such rich talent (local baseball products include Hall-of-Famers Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan and Rickey Henderson).

Selig knows he can’t unemotionally move the A’s to San Jose. He has chosen to be diplomatic about the entire idea, keeping one foot in Oakland with one of baseball’s more successful franchises (the Athletics rank third all-time with nine World Series titles) and one foot with his homeboy Lew Wolff.

But it’s that game of footsie that has turned out to be a big tease for the city of San Jose and its fans who await a ruling. Wolff, himself, is ultimately losing this battle of attrition with MLB. Will he patiently wait longer? Will he grow tired of reiterated parroting from Selig?

Absolutely not. But Selig’s decision not to decide makes things murkier than they already are—if that’s possible. He needs to put his foot down, be firm and take a stance—either denying the Athletics’ move due to the Giants’ ownership of San Jose or overturning those rights and allowing the A’s to relocate.

Selig and MLB need to take a page out of the NBA’s relocation playbook, taking a gander at the Athletics’ roommates, the Warriors. If the Dubs can be so decisive with their move to San Francisco, why can’t the A’s as well?

A settlement to this drawn-out ordeal has to be made. But that will happen only if Selig steps up to the plate.

Until then, this story will just become an incredibly beaten dead horse.

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Rollie Fingers and the Top 6 Closers in Oakland Athletics History

This weekend, the Oakland Athletics will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the organization’s 1972 World Series championship, as part of their three-game series hosting the Cleveland Indians. The highlight of the weekend will be the fan giveaway for Saturday’s matinee—a Rollie Fingers bobblehead doll, featuring his awesome signature handlebar moustache.

Renowned for his famous facial hair, Fingers also happened to have a Hall-of-Fame career as one of the first premier relievers in baseball history and clearly the most successful in the redefined role of the modern closer. His excellence on the field not only revolutionized the role of the closer in modern baseball, but it also paved the way for a long line of great closers in Oakland Athletics team history.

In honor of Fingers’ illustrious career and all the wonderful closers over the past 40 years of A’s baseball, let’s take a look at eight of the greatest closers in Oakland team history.

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Oakland Athletics: Comparing Yoenis Cespedes’ Rookie Season to Ichiro Suzuki’s

Coming to a foreign country as your new place of employment can often be a difficult transition for anybody. There’s the obvious potential language barrier. There’s the scrutiny of your new peers and high expectations from your superiors for importing you into their business. And the obvious adaptation to the new surroundings is daunting enough as it is.

For the average expatriate, these issues themselves can be difficult to overcome. Now imagine doing your new job, in a foreign land, while being followed by hordes of media, with the extreme demands of both representing your native country and performing at a high level.

That’s what it has to have been like for Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who defected from Cuba this past March to seek employment with Major League Baseball. And just like that, the madness began, the international pressures of success emerged, and the resulting media crush surrounding Cespedes’ every move was spawned.

Though it doesn’t seem like that terribly difficult of a situation, there have to be some growing pains for Cespedes in his amalgamation into MLB and American culture, especially as the most highly-touted Cuban prospect in the past few decades—as an everyday position player to boot.

Over the years, several Cuban defectors have put up brilliant performances and seasons, but most of them were starting pitchers, e.g., Livan Hernandez, Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras.

Yet it’s the performance of position players that draws the attention, the adulation and the lofty expectations from American fans, the international media and their native fanbases.

Nobody understands that more than Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who experienced similar fanfare 11 years ago as the first Japanese-born everyday position player in MLB history. Carrying an entire nation of fans on one’s back each day, for 162 games, is something few players understand quite like Suzuki does.

One has to wonder if Cespedes has taken notes from Suzuki over the past month.

The Athletics and Mariners square off this weekend, their third series already in this young baseball season. If it were possible, it’d be interesting to see if Suzuki has any sage advice for Cespedes in his rookie season in MLB.

Although the paths each player took to the U.S. are a bit different, there are some similarities to the foundations for their respective American careers.

Suzuki came to the Mariners as a 27-year-old who played nine professional seasons in Japan’s Pacific League. He completely assaulted the competition, stroking a .353 career batting average, accumulating seven batting titles and three consecutive MVP awards in the process. These astonishing accomplishments helped propel his desire to advance his career to the major-league level in America.

Cespedes’ pre-U.S. résumé surprisingly resembles that of Suzuki. Cespedes joined the majors this season at 26 years old, after spending eight seasons in Serie Nacional, Cuba’s national baseball system. He batted over .300 in seven of those years and was thrice an All-Star outfielder.

One would think that the obvious difference between the two international stars is Cespedes’ power hitting, as the Cuban’s physical makeup is more noticeably stout and burly, whereas Suzuki’s is more lithe and lean.

While Cespedes certainly has the superior physical strength, their individual numbers are hard to compare in respective nations’ baseball leagues. True, Cespedes mashed a career-high 33 home runs in 90 games in 2010-2011.

But while Cespedes’ best OPS season was in 2005-2006, when he posted a career high of 1.093, Suzuki’s career-best in Japan was .999, which is still quite a lofty mark.

Both had the physical packages in their native countries that included the five tools of an all-around baseball player. Cespedes is clearly the stronger power hitter, while Suzuki is a better base stealer with better raw speed. Both excelled in the outfield as center fielders and had strong arms to keep baserunners at bay.

Thus, while there are some clear differences between Cespedes’ and Suzuki’s careers in their native baseball leagues, they both came to MLB to pursue their baseball dreams.

There are some striking similarities between their games that made them each hot free-agent commodity. They came to the U.S. at similar ages, with similar experiences at the international level, having both played in the World Baseball Classic. Both are true national idols in their respective countries.

Will Cespedes be able to follow in Suzuki’s footsteps, finding immediate success this season with the Athletics, on his way to a potential Rookie of the Year campaign?

Cespedes got off to a torrid start to 2012, hitting three home runs in the first four games of the season, igniting Cespedes fever and building the foundation for an impressive first season in MLB. But can he keep it up the way that Suzuki did in 2001, on his way to winning both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards?

Likely not. Most definitely not.

Cespedes is not the refined, staid talent that Suzuki was when he entered the American League. There are more holes in Cespedes’ game—and his swing—that will prevent him from putting up a top-tier performance, especially over 162 games.

In Cuba, the baseball season is over 60 games shorter, so Cespedes’ conditioning will come into play later during the dog days of summer. Further, will his body be able to adjust to the traveling conditions, playing on the road, in different time zones, for six grueling months?

These are questions that will be answered throughout the course of Cespedes’ hyped rookie season. Under the watchful eye of nearly the entire Caribbean community, he will answer questions to the trailing media, do interviews and make community appearances.

It will be a welcome challenge, one that the Cuban export will fully embrace—he has so far demonstrated warm enthusiasm toward this opportunity in the majors, just like Suzuki did 11 years ago.

Yes, their paths may be different—they are from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different eras and different cultures. But their journeys to embark on the American dream through baseball are the same.

It’s unlikely that Cespedes will attain the unprecedented accomplishments that Suzuki did in 2001. But if he achieves half of that—a Rookie of the Year award—Cespedes will surely consider this season a success.

Maybe the two of them can compare notes this weekend.


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San Francisco Giants: Wise to Keep Barry Zito as Fifth Starter

Breaking news: San Francisco Giants Barry Zito struggled in his most recent spring outing, causing concern from the fan base about whether the veteran lefty deserves a spot in the team’s starting rotation as Opening Day approaches.

What is this, 2008? Wait, 2010? No, it’s 2012! Talk about déjà vu all over again.

Talk about déjà vu all over again.

Since signing one of the most infamous contracts in the history of pro sports in 2006, Zito has been under tremendous scrutiny and immense pressure to live up to the bazillion dollar billing. Each year, it’s the same old story—for both Zito and for the organization. Well, actually, somehow every season it seemingly gets worse for the 33-year-old veteran.

In 2007, his first season in San Francisco, Zito toughed out an 11-13 record with a 4.53 ERA. The next year, he posted career-worst marks in losses (17), losing percentage (.370), bases on balls (102) and WHIP (1.60), earning himself a demotion to the bullpen as the most expensive reliever in baseball history. Since then, it has amazingly not gotten better.

In 2010, during San Francisco’s magical World Series run, Zito found himself off the playoff roster, earning himself a job as the most expensive dugout cheerleader in baseball history. Last year, he started only nine games, finding himself on the disabled list for the first time in his 12-year career. Certainly, his five-year stint with the Giants has created a tenuous strife among fans.

When will he get better? Can he get better? What can San Francisco exactly do with him?

The answers to these questions are pretty obvious: no, no and nothing. Which is terrible for the Giants. And worse news for Giants fans.

It’s amazing how a short six seasons ago, Zito was brought to San Francisco to be the headliner of the pitching staff. Now, in 2012, Zito is slated as the fifth man in the rotation—behind Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong—fighting to remain a starter…again.

Unfortunately, his spring performances have not demonstrated that he deserves a second (or 10th) chance to be a starter. Last weekend, Zito was roughed up by the Chicago White Sox—a lot. His spring ERA rose to an obese 6.61 in five appearances (four starts), with 25 hits allowed in 16.1 innings.

How he won two games this March is a mystery.

And yet through it all, San Francisco has affirmed that Zito will indeed hold onto a spot in the starting rotation, this according to What the Giants are exactly thinking is anyone’s guess. Other than the simple fact that they have to—keeping him in the rotation is the right move.

Obviously, the lissome spirit of a man who has slowly morphed into an underhand softball park league pitcher is extremely high. And with Zito’s egregious contract, there’s little else the team can do but send him out there every fifth day and have the offense—the worst offense in the National League—somehow score a touchdown every game that he starts.

Heck, Alex Smith can barely engineer touchdown-scoring drives—what makes fans believe the Giants can do the same?

Amazingly, San Francisco nearly did score seven runs in each of Zito’s starts last season, providing him run support of 6.54 per game. Can they be asked to do that with seriousness this season? How can a lineup be pressured to score that many runs, especially in barren AT&T Park?

Hopefully, a rebooted lineup with the return of Buster Posey will do wonders for the offense—especially whenever Zito is pitching. Can’t San Francisco simply start Zito during home games, where he posted a 3.14 ERA in 2011 and a 3.35 ERA in 2010?

Though not the team’s desire, having Zito as the caboose in the pitching rotation is a necessity. The Giants are trudging into the 2012 season opener with penciled question marks about the team’s overall health.

Last season’s hidden gem, Vogelsong, is expected to miss the first half of April while recovering from a back injury. Meanwhile, earlier this week, prospect Eric Surkamp, was also shut down indefinitely with elbow soreness in his pitching arm. The young lefty had produced a generally impressive spring, despite a 4.41 ERA in three starts.

Though Surkamp had an outside shot at making the big league roster, he had been demonstrating tremendous progress and poise in spring training, enough to warrant consideration as a long reliever or spot starter, especially with Vogelsong temporarily sidelined.

With all of the minor dings to the starting staff, Zito is left, alone, as the de facto safety net to fill any vacancy in the rotation. Cringe. This is a clear example of how shallow the talent pool of starting pitchers is in the Giants’ farm system.

Despite the downward trend, Zito is the optimal choice as the No. 5 starter. He comes into 2012 healthy and focused, but the truth is, it’s hard to anticipate exactly how he’ll perform this season. Could he be tolerantly bad, part-time bad, worrisome bad or strangle-Dave-Righetti-with-the-bullpen-phone-cord bad?

Whatever the prognostication may be, if San Francisco wants to return to the playoffs this year, they have to figure out long-term plans B and C through Z for Zito. After all, Lincecum and Cain cannot carry the load by themselves—not as two-fifths of the starting rotation.

But for right now, banishing Zito to the bullpen is a pricey move; and it doesn’t make any sense given his recent history. Lefties batted .294 against him last season, and he was extremely terrible early in the count. In his first 15 pitches of any appearance, batters posted a robust .965 OPS. Yikes.

Crazily, Zito’s statistics actually prove that he’s more capable as a starting pitcher. How did that happen?

Given the dearth of pitching depth and numbers that support his inadequacy as a reliever, Zito has to be a starter. Plain and simple.

At present, it’s wise to keep Zito in the fifth spot on the starting staff. The Giants just need to make sure the bullpen is deep, loose and ready to go somewhere by the third inning.

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