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2010: MLB’s Year of the Pitcher

The Chinese Zodiac is a 12-year cycle conceived as the Chinese version of Western astrology. Personally I was born in the Year of the Rooster, so I suppose in 2017 I will have a lucky and/or prosperous year.

That’s not to suggest that Major League Baseball operates on any consistent annual calendar in which to predict which players will have good years and good singular performances.

It does, however, seem safe to say that this definitely a year of the pitcher. It’s a bit early in the season to judge season-long performance, but it’s probably safe to say that Ubaldo Jimenez of the Colorado Rockies and Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies are having amazing years.

I mostly attribute this year, however, as a year of the pitcher because of the large number of spectacular individual pitching performances. Jimenez got the ball rolling with a no-hitter on April 17, 2010. Dallas Braden of the Oakland A’s followed it up with a Perfect Game on May 9. Twenty days later, on May 29, Halladay pitched his own masterpiece. Fresh in all of our minds is Armando Galarraga’s robbed perfect game by a missed call with two out in the ninth inning by umpire Jim Joyce.

First of all, two perfect games in one season has happened only once before: in 1880. The fact that it happened again this season is astonishing.

Secondly, that’s three (should be four) no-hitters in the 2010 season. I couldn’t remember a season where there were so many in one season, so I went hunting for information.

It turns out that three no-hitters in one season has actually happened many times before, the most recent being in 2001 when the feat was accomplished by Hideo Nomo, A.J. Burnett, and Bud Smith.

Five no-hitters in a year has happened three times: 1962, 1968, and 1973. Six no-hitters in a year has happened four times: 1908, 1915, 1917, and 1969.  In both 1990 and 1991 there occurred seven no-hitters each. The record, however, belongs to 1884 which tallied eight no-hitters. These were all some very big years of the pitcher.

Etch 2010 onto that list: three no-hitters including two perfect games, one blown perfect game, and what seems like at least half a dozen contests already this season in which a pitcher lost a no-hitter in the seventh inning or later.

Many baseball fans and analysts will probably attribute the dominance of pitchers this season to more effective steroid testing on hitters. In all likelihood that’s true. The 2010 draft is projected to be heavy on the arms and not as many tantalizing hitters, so this pitching trend is likely to continue.

Pitching may continue to dominate, but like the Chinese Zodiac, and even our troubled economy, we’re bound to cycle through it, and hitters will bounce back eventually.

Stephen Strasburg, the hottest draft pick from the 2009 draft will be pitching in Washington very soon; yet another reason it’s the year of the pitcher because all eyes will be on Strasburg especially in his first few starts.

I will continue to enjoy this year of the pitcher. Let’s see how many no-hitters this season has by the end of the summer.

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Oakland A’s: Is Adam Rosales the New Marco Scutaro?

Marco Scutaro was beloved by the fans. Mr. Dlutch came through time and time again with winning walk-off hit after winning walk-off hit. One of Scutaro’s most memorable moments for the Oakland A’s was in the 2006 ALDS against the Minnesota Twins. Scutaro’s bases-clearing double in Game Three broke the game open and broke the A’s decade-long curse, helping send the A’s to the ALCS.

Scutaro was an invaluable utility infielder who became an every day infielder thanks to injuries to the A’s middle infield. Sure, business is business, but GM Billy Beane must have had a hard time pulling the trigger on trading Scutaro to the Toronto Blue Jays following the 2007 season.

Then again, it must have been hard NOT to trade Marco Scutaro when his salary kept going up, as well as his value. Scutaro had made many memories for the A’s, but each memory was getting more expensive for the low-budget A’s.

At the start of the 2009 season, oft-injured and presumably healthy Bobby Crosby was trained as a utility player. Not exactly a cheap replacement with his $5 million plus salary, but Crosby wasn’t doing enough every day to help keep the A’s afloat.

After the 2009 season, Crosby was also off the books, and the A’s needed to find what they had been lacking since trading away Marco Scutaro: a super sub who goes above and beyond the call of duty as a “backup” player.

Enter Adam Rosales.

On February 1, the A’s acquired Adam Rosales in bad contracts trade. The A’s gave Cincinnati Aaron Miles, whom they had acquired from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Rosales and Willy Taveras, who was released almost immediately.

The collective response from the A’s fan base of Rosales’ acquisition was “um… yay?” More was made of why the A’s were willing to eat Tavaras’ contract than the acquisition of Rosales. The common comparisons made were: Rosales plays all out, like former A’s outfielder Eric Brynes, and he wears number seven at shortstop, just like Bobby Crosby.

He’s not Eric Byrnes. He’s not Bobby Crosby. He’s Adam Rosales. And he could very well be Marco Scutaro, too.

During Spring Training, Rosales almost stole the everyday shortstop job from Cliff Pennington with his performance. There was plenty of buzz in camp about how Rosales sprints to first base after a walk or around the bases after hitting a home run. There was a lot to like about Rosales.

There still is.

While Mark Ellis was out this season nursing his hamstrings, Rosales filled in admirably at second base—not unlike Marco scutaro. When Mark Ellis finally returned from the D.L., Rosales handed the job back to Ellis without making an error there Ellis’ absence. What has Rosales done since? He’s spelled Kevin Kouzmanoff at third base, he’s spelled Cliff Pennington at shortstop, and he’s even filled in in the outfield, allowing Ryan Sweeney to get needed time off.

While playing “musical fielders” all over the field, Rosales has been a valuable bat as well. He’s batting .281 with on-base percentage of .344. Rosales’ four home runs are tied for the team lead. Rosales has batted all over the lineup, and there’s been talk of letting him hit leadoff.

Super Utility, thy name is Rosales. It might be a good thing though that the A’s have all the catching help they need.

Rosales is good. Did Beane know was he was getting this offseason in that trade, or did he just strike gold? Either way, the A’s are cashing in. Rosales is making it very easy for the A’s to stomach the fact that Scutaro turned down their multi-year offer to resign this past offseason.

The best news is that Rosales is young and cheap. Hopefully the A’s hold onto him for a while. Finding the next Marco Scutaro took a while. Finding the next Adam Rosales might take a bit longer.

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Which Sacramento River Cats Are Ready for Oakland?

Coming into the 2010 Season, the Sacramento River Cats seemed destined to dominate. They were loaded with potent bats and talented pitchers.

Their 21-27 record as we near the end of May isn’t exactly dominant, though. In general, the pitching has performed well enough, but it’s the River Cat bats that are slumping, something fans are more used to seeing in Oakland in the Spring.

Dallas McPherson, a minor league free agent signing the A’s hoped might regain health and power numbers has been sitting on the D.L. Michael Taylor, prized offseason acquisition is also nursing an injury after a slow start. Infielder Adrian Cardenas is off to a slow start after arriving late from extended Spring Training. Oh, and Corey Brown, Fall League MVP runner-up to now retired Grant Desme has cooled off as well.

Suffice it to say, we won’t see any of those players in Oakland anytime soon. But who is playing well and deserving of a call-up? A few suspected answers, a few surprises.

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Oakland A’s: The Chris Carter Query

There is much hype surrounding the impending promotion of Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals to the big leagues. Deservedly so. If he wasn’t hyped up enough before being drafted by Washington, he’s proved his mettle in the minors this season, specifically with his spotless 0.00 ERA after 18 1/3 innings at Triple-A Syracuse.

But what of the A’s most hyped prospect? First Baseman Chris Carter is nowhere near as acclaimed as Strasburg. However, a team as power-starved as the A’s can’t help but look to Carter to help bring balance to a team excelling with it’s pitching staff.

The A’s pitching staff managed to allow just one run to the struggling San Francisco Giants over the weekend, but you can’t expect them to turn in a performance like that the rest of the season.

The scrappy A’s survive by manufacturing runs, but if they want to contend in September, they need some power in the line-up, a bat pitchers are truly afraid to face.

In 2008, Chris Carter, freshly acquired by the A’s in the Danny Haren trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, put up remarkable power stats with the Single-A Stockton Ports: 39 home runs and 104 RBI to go along with a modest .259 batting average. As excited as the A’s must have been to finally have a true power bat in their minor league system, the .259 batting average and a strikeout total of 156 had to be worrisome.

In 2009, Carter started the season with the Double-A Midland RockHounds, and finished with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats en route to a career season. Carter totalled 28 home runs and 115 RBI to go along with a much improved .329 batting average.

Carter learned better plate discipline and overall became a force to be reckoned with. After this accomplished season, Carter added a MiLB Player of the Year award to his trophy case.

So of course, heading into the 2010 season, there was a lot of hype surrounding Carter as a future franchise player. The power has returned as Carter currently has collected nine home runs and 36 RBI.

I’m a little troubled by Carter’s .235 batting average and .328 on-base percentage. Granted, it’s only two months into the minor league season, and there’s plenty of time for Carter to improve, but it’s his threat as a hitter, as well as a power hitter, that needs to catch up.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, Daric Barton is finally living up to some of his own hype at the major league level. Barton has flashed the glove of a gold glover and the patience at the plate to become a hitter the A’s truly wouldn’t mind having at the plate for a crucial at bat.

Barton’s competence buys time for the A’s to take their time with Carter.

In a perfect world, the A’s play well down the stretch, Barton stays healthy and Carter can mature some more at Triple-A Sacramento.

The conundrum facing the A’s is if everyone’s healthy, Carter is dominating Triple-A and can help Oakland, where do you put him in Oakland?

Barton’s a quality first baseman. At DH, you have Jack Cust for the time being, hitting competently in the role. I’ve been conditioned to be pessimistic about any Eric Chavez return, but if he does return from his latest injury, it’ll just be one more roster hurdle for Carter.

Carter’s debut in Oakland this season will most likely come at the hands of an injury or a trade. I’m finally starting to enjoy Barton’s performance, I’d hate to lose that bat.

Cust likely is in Oakland to stay pending any return from Eric Chavez. If they A’s don’t want to lose any players prematurely via health or trade, they must consider that Carter might not debut until September when rosters expand or when the 2011 season begins. At least then Chavez’ contract will be up, the A’s can again choose to non-tender Cust and open up a 1B/DH spot.

I hope nothing rushes Carter to the big leagues. The A’s need to see him recapture that dominant batter’s box presence before they start selling Carter T-shirts and jerseys.

The 2009 Chris Carter is the man I want to see in Oakland.

He has the power… is it too much to ask for more?

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Oakland A’s Pitcher Dallas Braden Throws MLB’s 19th Perfect Game

I heard it best on the A’s post-game show with Chris Townsend: You could not have asked for a better script. Dallas Braden, surrounded by friends, family and his community of Stockton, Calif., pitched MLB’s 19th perfect game ever on Sunday, May 9, 2010.

As the last out was recorded at the Oakland Coliseum, the stadium erupted. The bench rushed Braden on the mound. Braden had bear hugs for his teammates. As he proceeded from the pitchers’ mound towards the dugout, he had bear hugs for his coaches. Most importantly, Braden had a giant bear hug for his grandmother who met him by the A’s dugout.

Braden and his grandmother have always been extremely close, and losing his mom to cancer while he was in high school only made them stronger. There were tears in Braden’s eyes, his grandmother’s and mine as I watched the two embrace.

The 19th perfect games in the Major League Baseball history belongs to you, Dallas Braden.

Braden won’t forget his roots either.

It had to be fate that today was Braden’s “209” promotion. Fans sitting in section 209 hailed from Stockton his hometown whose area code is also 209. Braden could be heard screaming “209, 209” while pointing at his hometown fans as he left the pitchers mound.

On a team facing dismal attendance this year, this is the shot in the arm that the fan base needed.

The A’s are good.

They’re competing for first place in a wide open AL West. And, oh yeah, they have the latest perfect game.

So much hype was going into the A’s season about their starting pitching. Former All-Stars Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer, outstanding sophomore pitcher Brett Anderson and promising Gio Gonzalez, and of course, Dallas Braden. Who would have guessed that Braden would be the man attached to the phrase “perfect game?”

Braden, after having a great start to the season, struggled in his last two starts. Reporters were still asking him about that and his remarks to Alex Rodriguez. He replied he just wanted to move on.

I believe he did.

Alex Rodriguez laughed off Braden’s rant about him, citing that it didn’t matter especially coming from a nobody like Braden. Mr. Rodriguez, he’s not a nobody any more.

Not that he ever was a nobody.

If the A’s have but one All-Star representative again this year, give the honors to  Braden.

The city of Stockton and its community could not be prouder of their representative in Oakland. Braden is a shining example that good things can come from anywhere. Even Stockton.

Hats off to you, area code 209. And hats off to you, Dallas Braden. Couldn’t have happened to a better guy. Couldn’t have asked for a better script.



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The 10 Events that End in the Oakland A’s Capturing the AL West

The A’s have had a promising start to the 2010 campaign. Some have left A’s fans weeping saying “this looks all too familiar!” But there is room for optimism, and since I’m the optimism king of my Oakland A’s, I feel it’s my duty to keep fans uplifted.
At the beginning of the season I predicted a season winning percentage of no worse than .500 in 2010. I stand by that. The A’s have the talent that goes far overlooked by the rest of the league. In fact, the A’s could surprise everyone. I’ve compiled a list of things that need to happen for the A’s to capture the AL West, and no, a miracle is not on the list.

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