Talking with the Enemy: A's @ Braves Series Preview

With the start of the first Interleague Series of the year, we take a moment to swap some questions with Christy Hofman (baseballgirl) of Athletics Nation. AN is the flagship blog of SB Nation and is rather full of rabid A’s fans. If you feel the need to taunt (and why should you really, they’re the A’s) then make sure you play nice. Click here to see my answers to Christy’s questions about the Braves. Below are her answer’s to my questions about the Athletics… enjoy.

Q: Is this A's team really good enough to be in first place (or almost first place), and stay in first place all season?

A: My answer as a fan? Of course; the A’s are going to the World Series! My answer as an objective observer? No. The A’s have been playing way above their heads with amazing pitching and timely hitting since the beginning of the season. Their weaknesses are in their offensive power (already being exploited), questionable health of several key players, and the true measure of their pitching. It’s hard to quantify too much about the A’s yet; it depends on how healthy their two aces can stay, how their two rookie starting pitchers will fare over the course of the season; if Frank Thomas and Jack Cust can really provide some power in the lineup, and if Kurt Suzuki, Daric Barton and Travis Buck are truly major league ready. My guess is that the A’s will finish second in the AL West, behind the solid Angels’ team (as much as it pains me to admit it). Whether they can remain in the Wild Card race or not will depend on many factors.

Q: Which player has been the biggest surprise for the A's in 2008? Who has been the biggest disappointment?

A: I think coming out of the gate, Emil Brown has been the biggest surprise for me, although his performance has dropped off lately. I did not expect much from him; I questioned the signing, yet he has made up a good portion of the A’s offense to date. Other surprises include the success of Greg Smith and Dana Eveland in the starting rotation, and Joey Devine and Santiago Casilla (who was injured yesterday; we are still awaiting word on how severely) in the ‘pen. My biggest disappointment so far has been Daric Barton; no question. For such a highly touted prospect, he doesn’t even look like he belongs in the league right now. Close behind him is Travis Buck, who may have an injury excuse, but the A’s badly need production in the leadoff spot.

Q: Do you think Frank Thomas will be able to help the A's this year?

A: I have never wished for a player to succeed more than I do Thomas this year. Frank Thomas single-handedly took the A’s to the 2006 ALCS, and was simply amazing for the team, in every way. It’s so great to have him back, but he HAS to start turning his singles into doubles and homeruns. He’s hitting with warning-track power right now, and the A’s badly need him to provide the extra-base power they are lacking.

Q: What has been your impression of Joey Devine?

A: He’s been absolutely nasty out there on the mound. I had no idea his stuff was so good; he amazes me every outing. He came into the game yesterday and absolutely blew away three out of the four hitters he faced. He’s pitching with confidence now, and with the A’s recent bullpen injuries, it looks like he’ll be a key part of the ‘pen for the season, which is great.

Q: The A's have the second fewest homeruns of any team in baseball. Does that lack of power concern you? After all, that is one of the key principles of Moneyball.

A: Interestingly, the A’s have started their season not with power, but with a bunch of walks and singles. Somehow, some way, the A’s have managed to put a bunch of runners on base, and have received just enough hits to score some of them, all without benefit of the extra base-hit; specifically the homerun. The A’s have been known for the long ball in the past, and obviously it’s different now; homeruns are so rare you think there’s a walk-off when our announcers get to call one. Absolutely, the lack of power concerns me. Daric Barton, Jack Cust, Frank Thomas should be hitting their share, and Mark Ellis, Bobby Crosby, and Emil Brown should be putting up a few, as well. Not one of them is hitting consistently for power; in fact, Frank Thomas still does not have a homerun for the A’s. (He does have a triple, though.) I’ll go ahead and say it: The A’s won’t be fighting for first place for very long if the power doesn’t show up. There is only so far great pitching can take a team; we’re coming off a series where the A’s offense scored a run on a wild pitch and one on an error, and that was the extent of their offense for three entire games. That’s either a really good sign for the Braves, or the exact opposite.

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