Three keys to Oakland A’s winning the AL West in 2011 

Avoid injuries

1| The past several seasons, whatever hope Oakland had disappeared on the trainer’s table or in doctors’ offices. In what had become a recurring story, the A’s in 2010 used the disabled list 23 times. You name him, he was on the list — $10 million pitcher Ben Sheets, Coco Crisp, Mark Ellis, Kurt Suzuki, Ryan Sweeney, Kevin Kouzmanoff and even midseason pickup Conor Jackson. That group doesn’t include Rich Harden, rejoining the club with which he started. Harden has been on the DL nine times during his previous eight years in the big leagues — and missed a month of throwing this spring because of muscle stiffness. “If we can stay healthy, that’s going to be the key,” Harden said. With the A’s, it’s a very big “if.”

Score, score and score some more

2| Oakland was 11th in the 14-team American League in getting people across the plate in 2010. That was addressed by bringing in David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham, who will be the heart of the order, the 3-4-5 batters. Willingham was hit by a pitch in an exhibition game, creating a few worries, but was OK. The question, relating to health, is whether those three, plus leadoff man Coco Crisp and No. 2 hitter Daric Barton, are in the lineup. DeJesus averages 123 games a year and missed 10 weeks last season because of a torn ligament in his right thumb. Willingham incurred a meniscus tear in his left knee. Kurt Suzuki started fast in 2010, but then was hurt and fell to his worst career year, a .242 average after hitting .274 in 2009. He’ll be in the six hole in 2011, not batting third.

Play solid defense


3| When you’re built on pitching and have trouble scoring, the worst thing is to allow the other team four outs an inning or botch a certain double play. The addition of Willingham will help the offense, but at the same time will reduce the effectiveness of what was a competent defense. Crisp can patrol the big space in center at the Coliseum, and Mark Ellis is excellent at second. However, if there is one position without which a team can’t function, it’s shortstop, where in 2010 Cliff Pennington topped — or bottomed — all American League fielders with 25 errors.

Projected lineup


CF Coco Crisp

Bats: S

Throws: R


When healthy, Crisp is the ideal leadoff man who can hit for average, steal bases — he stole 32 in 75 games in 2010 — and find a way to reach base.

1B Daric Barton

Bats: L

Throws: R


While Barton doesn’t have ideal power numbers for a corner infielder, his ability to get on base — he led the AL in walks in 2010 — is invaluable.

RF David DeJesus

Bats: L

Throws: L


The former Royal was limited to 91 games last year due to a thumb injury, but his career .289 batting average should solidify the middle of the lineup.

LF Josh Willingham

Bats: R

Throws: R


The A’s are hoping the outfielder can provide the right-handed bat they have been searching for. He has hit more than 20 HRs three times in his career.

DH Hideki Matsui

Bats: L

Throws: R


“Godzilla” will bring fanfare to the Coliseum, but does he have anything left in the tank? He’s coming off back-to-back seasons of at least 21 HRs.

C Kurt Suzuki

Bats: R

Throws: R


Always solid behind the plate, Suzuki saw his offensive numbers dip in 2010, including a more than 30-point loss in batting average to .242.

3B Kevin Kouzmanoff

Bats: R

Throws: R


In his first year with the A’s, Kouzmanoff did about what was expected of him, tallying 16 homers and 71 RBIs, but not much average (.247).

2B Mark Ellis

Bats: R

Throws: R


One of the A’s unsung heroes, Ellis is always solid in the field and turned in a .291 batting average in 2010, the second-best mark of his career.

SS Cliff Pennington

Bats: S

Throws: R


In his first full season, Pennington produced mixed results. He stole 29 bases and led the team with eight triples, but his .250 batting average hurt.

Projected rotation


Trevor Cahill

Bats: R

Throws: R

After beginning the season in the minors, Cahill quickly developed into an ace the rest of the way. He finished the season 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA.

Brett Anderson

Bats: L

Throws: L


Anderson was every bit as good as Cahill down the stretch, finishing 4-1 in September-October. If he can stay healthy, look for a big year.

Dallas Braden

Bats: L

Throws: L


The left-hander’s perfect game against the Rays on May 9 was the highlight of the A’s 2010 season, but Braden struggled to find consistency after that.

Gio Gonzalez

Bats: R

Throws: L


After the All-Star break, Gonzalez was dynamite, going 8-3 with a 2.59 ERA. His emergence gives the A’s four quality starters to build around.

Brandon McCarthy

Bats: R

Throws: R


The 6-foot-7 right-hander is on his third team, but he flashed potential in the spring. If he can throw strikes, McCarthy should be a capable fifth starter.

The closer


Andrew Bailey

Bats: R

Throws: R


The All-Star appears to have avoided a serious injury in the spring and should be on track to make an impact this season.

The manager


Bob Geren

Fifth season


A former catcher, Geren is protective of and responsive to the A’s pitchers. He is respected and understood by the full roster.

About The Author

Art Spander

Art Spander

Bio:
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.
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