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Questions for May

May 2, 2011

One day late into the month but it is still important to ask some May questions and one day certainly fails to answer any. So here goes…

1. Will the bats heat up?

The offense has been pretty terrible. Glaring bad performances came from Mark Ellis (.191/.232/.287, .240 wOBA), Daric Barton (.209/.342/.297, .296 wOBA) and Kevin Kouzmanoff (.208/.247/.338, .262 wOBA). While with Barton I anticipate an improvement going forward I think it is clear Ellis is not the ballplayer he used to be and that Kouzanoff likely will never be the ballplayer the A’s anticipated he would be. Overall do I anticipate the A’s to put up a monthly slash line of .237/.305/.350 again? No. The bats will heat up though perhaps not to a level we’d like. Sunday represented a good start for a warmer May.

2. How long will Brian Fuentes remain as closer?

Brian Fuentes has been pretty bad in the closing role. Unfortunately I do not see Bob Geren making a move until forced to and the only thing that will force his hand is Andrew Bailey‘s return. Bailey is progressing but not soon enough for the fingernails and blood pressure levels of A’s fans. Today in the San Francisco Chronicle John Shea wrote,

“The A’s finally are talking about closer Andrew Bailey, on the disabled list all season with a forearm strain, throwing to hitters. Manager Bob Geren said the first session could come midweek. ‘I don’t know how many appearances before I pitch in the big leagues. I’d say a few since I really haven’t had spring training,’ said Bailey, who initially will throw all fastballs to hitters. He’s throwing curves, but only on flat ground.”

So we have a ways to go with Fuentes still in that role.

3. Does Kevin Kouzmanoff stay the starting third baseman?

Unfortunately here as well I think the answer will be yes. For a few games in there Andy LaRoche was making somewhat regular starts at third but that was short lived. Geren doesn’t seem to have any issues with keeping guys not performing in the lineup without any clear reason (see Ellis’ inclusion virtually everyday despite a complete lack of production and history of injury) and I don’t see him suddenly changing his modus operandi anytime soon. So I think Kouz is stuck at third, though he is a bit less secure in his position than is Barton and especially less secure than the won’t be benched ever Ellis.

4. What’re the next moves on the Sacramento-Oakland shuttle?

Aside from injuries, there don’t seem to be any moves on the horizon from down on the farm. Chris Carter is not hitting, none of the pitchers on the parent club seem to be in need of immediate demotion and none of the pitchers in Sacramento have really stepped up to a level that requires their promotion. If Bailey is indeed activated this month (and I anticipate he will be), I think the natural person to be sent down is Jerry Blevins given his status as having options and being left-handed with a surplus of left-handed arms in the pen. Adam Rosales does not look to return in May but his roster spot is perhaps more intriguing as I think that could force a move regarding ridding of Kouzmanoff. That being said, I think that’ll be a moot point with Rosie not back this month for sure and likely a June return too is questionable. No backup players need to be demoted or are struggling. Likewise no one in Sacramento is pushing anyone in Oakland to make a move either – Adrian Cardenas‘ fast start not withstanding he won’t be in Oakland this year unless it is as a September call up.

5. Can the A’s live without Dallas Braden?

Tyson Ross has been great and I think the answer is very much so yes. Braden is sort of starting to throw (unclear the full extent of it) but seems a ways away from returning. His return likely will mean Ross is sent down to Sacramento, but I think his return also could be an opportunity to build up the offense with perhaps a trade of Brandon McCarthy to an NL team so the A’s can sell high? Regardless, I think the biggest impact of Braden’s absence has been on Gio Gonzalez. Gio’s two losses (pretty ugly affairs – though his 2BB to 14K was very good) both came when Braden wasn’t travelling with the team and he seems to be able to clear Gio’s head and keep him on track so he doesn’t snowball and build negative momentum as he has done in the past.

6. Do the A’s finish May atop the West?

I think the answer is yes. The Rangers have stumbled out of the gate (considering their talent level) and face a number of injuries, the Angels have been very solid when Jered Weaver or Dan Haren start and passable on the days when they don’t. Seattle is a non-issue though they are a better team than they were last year and are by no means an easy win – Michael Pineda for one is the real deal. The A’s pitching is beyond solid and the bats and fielding is the only thing lagging. I think with a lot of these guys they will start to play closer to their typical numbers and so naturally they’ll improve. The schedule is tough – just one off day in the month – also with six dates against the Angels and three with Texas this is a big chance to move up the rankings and I think they will.

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