|A’s Shoring Weaknesses||| Print ||
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on January 18, 2011
The Rangers seized control of the American League West from the Angels last season, but their perch may be short-lived. The Athletics have done the best job of fixing their weaknesses from last season and are a legitimate threat to reach the postseason.
As sometimes happens in breakout seasons, the Rangers received good fortune in winning the division by nine games. Their won/loss record, measured by the number of runs scored and allowed, shows they were just six games better than the Athletics.
Offseason moves favor the Athletics, too. Divisions aren't won in the offseason, but the wise general manager uses all resources available to improve his team. The Athletics had good pitching and a strong defense last season. Their bugaboo was runs scored.
The Athletics were 23rd in the majors in runs scored, behind such teams like the Padres, Royals and Cubs. Kevin Kouzmanoff led with 16 home runs and 71 RBIs. Power production was not a strength, to say the least.
General manager Billy Beane struck out in trying to sign Adrian Beltre, but he split his money wisely on other moves. He traded for David DeJesus and Josh Willingham, two underrated outfielders who can get on base. He signed designated hitter Hideki Matsui for $4.5 million.
Those moves probably don't excite the fan base in the Bay Area, especially with San Francisco's World Series win, but the Athletics should win more game next season. If they reach the postseason, there's plenty of potential.
A top-heavy rotation and strong bullpen are two keys to postseason success. The Athletics led the American League in ERA last season, 0.22 runs ahead of the Rays. Yes, some credit goes to their spacious home ballpark but several talented young arms like Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Dallas Braden stepped forward. Imagine a healthy Brett Anderson added to that.
The bullpen should be the best in the division, perhaps the American League. The Athletics signed Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour. They'll receive Joey Devine back from injury and have quality parts in Andrew Bailey, Craig Breslow and Brad Ziegler.
Texas, meanwhile, lost two integral pieces: ace Cliff Lee and designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero. Lee provided them with 108 2/3 innings over 15 starts, an average of nearly 7 1/3 innings, saving the Rangers bullpen from innings.
Guerrero's impact was noticeable, too. He hit .300 with a .496 slugging percentage, providing American League MVP Josh Hamilton some much needed protection in the lineup. Beltre does his best to replace that, and he was six wins better than Michael Young last season at third base.
The Rangers are betting Beltre bucks his career trend of just having career years in contract years and that the young arms fill Lee's vacated spot atop the rotation for them to win the division.
Oakland remains the elephant in the room.