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Ferguson: A's keep rolling; big test for Jays in homestand

Scott Ferguson
4/21/2014 12:53:06 PM
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The Oakland A's have the best record in the American League at 13-5 and are second only to Milwaukee by  a half-game for best record in the Majors. This organizations success, at times, defies logic. They play in the most in-need-of-repair stadium in the Majors and traditionally draw in the bottom third, if not worse, in the Majors. Yet, here they are at 13-5 atop the American League West after starting last season at 12-5 en route to a 96-win season.

There were a couple of things that caught my attention about the A's 4-1 victory over Houston. First, it was the starting pitcher. Jesse Chavez was actually with the Blue Jays back in 2012 as a reliever. He didn't see much action with a team that had three starters - Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek - down with injuries. Later that year, the Jays lost the then 28-year-old on a waiver claim by Oakland.

Last season, he worked in the A's pen as a reliever. Now the A's, thanks in part to injuries, have given the 30-year-old right hander the chance to start.

So far, it looks as though the A's have struck gold. Chavez has made four starts and in doing so, became the first starter in franchise history to go at least six innings in his first four outings and give up one or fewer runs in each. Sunday, he picked up his first Major League victory as a starter and has solidified his spot in the Oakland rotation.

The other thing I noticed is the A's lineup. Of the 11 players who appeared in that 4-1 victory over Houston, only one was actually signed and developed by Oakland. That was budding Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes, who defected in 2011 and signed a four-year, $36 million contract with the A's in February of 2012. All the rest were picked up in trades - many descript or on waiver claims or lower-tier free agents.

Take Daric Barton, who came on late in the game to play first, but can also catch. He was picked up in a trade with St. Louis, along with infielder Kiko Calero and right hander Dan Haren, for then ace lefty Mark Mulder, who ultimately blew out his shoulder with the Redbirds, sat out a few years and ultimately had to abandon a comeback this spring. Barton is still contributing to the A's and Haren is still going strong elsewhere. Josh Donaldson failed as a catcher in the Cubs organization and with the A's. Then they made him into a third baseman and he's turned into a star. The A's, with a limited payroll, just keep finding ways.

If you roll back the clock to the year 2000 and then go over the A's records over the following 14 seasons, they've had nine winning seasons, four losing seasons and one .500 season. In fact, they had five seasons in a row between 2007 and 2011 where they only reached .500 once. But their successes have been mighty; two seasons with over 100 victories and seven more with at least 91.

In 14 years, the A's have finished first in the AL West six times. They have made the postseason eight times. Grant you, they have only won one division series and were defeated in the only ALCS they made it to. But I don't think I have to remind you there have been plenty of other teams that haven't come close to making the postseason over that 14 year span, teams that have a lot more money to spend and better venues to play in.

The other amazing thing about the A's is their attendance. If you go back to when they were the Athletics in Philadelphia, where they resided for 54 years, the Athletics never broke one million in attendance once. During their 13 seasons in Kansas City, the A's only surpassed one million twice, while in 46 years in Oakland, they have only bettered the two million mark, which is generally conceded to be the break-even point, 11 times.

How good have they been over the last 14 years? Well collectively, they have finished 204 games above .500. The only two teams in the American League that have been head and shoulders better than them are the Yankees at 390 games over .500 with two World Series wins and two losses, and Boston at 265 games over .500 with three World Series triumphs. Billy Beane and Moneyball may have been overrated to a degree, but the A's have proven to be one of the great franchises in the game against all odds.

The Blue Jays have a significant homestand starting up Tuesday night. Baltimore comes to town for three followed by Boston for three. At 10-9, the Jays are one game ahead of the Orioles and Bosox. The Jays' starting rotation will have to deliver more innings over these next six games. Last turn through the starting five, lefty Mark Buehrle was the only one able to get through the sixth and then beyond.

The Jays have a bit of a psychological edge in both these series. The Orioles will be coming off an emotional Patriots Day game in Boston Monday morning and a draining series against the Bosox. Then Boston goes from that series to a three gamer with the Yankees. Both the O's and the Red Sox could be a little battle worn by the time they hit Toronto.

Everybody talks about the Jays someday regretting trading Noah Syndergaard to the Mets. Well Henderson Alvarez is already in the Majors and looking dominant at times with the Miami Marlins. Saturday at home, he hit 96 MPH on the radar gun and pitched a complete game two-hitter, as the Marlins shut out Seattle 7-0. He faced just 28 batters, one over the minimum. It was Alvarez's first victory since he no-hit the Tigers on the final day of last season.  He is 1-2 this season with a 2.66 ERA.

Giants righty Tim Hudson is joining some exclusive company. He set a Giants record over the weekend by throwing 30 innings without issuing a single walk. He has also come close to a Major League mark by starting a season with four games of at least seven innings without walking a single batter.

A gentleman by the name of "Tiny" Bonham also did that in 1944, according to ESPN, and Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland "Pete" Alexander had a six game run in 1923.

We mentioned right hander Dan Haren a little earlier in connection with the A's. Well, he's trying to reboot his career with the Dodgers. His control has been impeccable in the early going. He has 20 strikeouts and just two walks. Of all active pitchers, Dan Haren has the top strikeout-to-walk ratio at 4.09 to one.




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