Bay Area Sports Fan!

A blog for a Bay Area Sports Fan

Sharks Drop Game One

Posted by davefowkes on 04/16/2009

(San Jose, CA) The Sharks skated hard, played physical, were solid on defense and got shots on goals, but despite all that they could not get the puck in the net. The Anaheim Ducks take game one of the first round playoff series with a 2-0 win over the Sharks quickly ending the Sharks home ice advantage.

Rookie Jonas Hiller made 35 saves and the Sharks went 0-6 on the power play as their offensive woes continue. The Sharks out shot the Ducks 35-17, but could not get that decisive goal that they needed.

Scott Niedermayaer scored on the power play and Ryan Getzlaf added a late goal in the third period to provide the offense for the night.

There power play was better than ours, that is what it comes down too,” Joe Thornton said. “We stressed that before the series started. Whoever has the better special teams will probably win the series. They got one and we did not, and that was the difference.”

Evgeni Nabokov did not need to work too hard in stopping 15 shots but finally midway through the third period he gave up a power play goal that would prove to be the winner.

“We felt like we had the majority of play, but that is just hockey,”Thornton said of the team’s efforts. “We just have to keep going to the net and getting shots and hopefully some of them will go in for us.”

What it lacked in shots it made up for in hits. 35 hits were registered between the two teams in what was a very physical, defensive period. Douglas Murray really pushed a few Ducks around with some crowd pleasing hits. “It is the playoffs,” Murray said. “That is playoff hockey. You have to bring the intensity, everybody does. Those that don’t usually hit, hit and those that do play physical like myself have to be even more physical. It is playoff hockey.”

The game was so tight in the first period that there was one span of 7:50 without a shot on net.

In the second period, the Sharks best opportunity came as the puck slid across the goal crease. With Jeremy Roenick virtually pinning Hiller to one side of the net, the puck was there for the taking, but Marcel Goc fanned on his poke attempt through the defense, and the puck skidded out of danger for the Ducks. There were a couple of loose pucks on both sides of the ice where players would be left to think about what could have been?

Finally five minutes into the third period the Ducks would score. Jonathan Cheechoo took a tripping penalty which would set up the Ducks power play. Niedermayer scored on a slap shot from the face off circle through traffic. It was the type of game where it felt like the team that scored first would probably win. Niedermayer’s goal would prove to be the game winner.

The Sharks could not mount much pressure despite getting two more power play opportunities in the third period. “We finished third overall (on the power play this season) but tonight we were out of psync and we did not convert on our chances,” Dan Boyle said. “The power play let us down tonight.”

The Ducks put the game away when Ryan Getlaf took a turnover and beat Nabokov between two defenders on a great wrist shot.

The Sharks need to find a way to generate offense in this series, something that they have struggled to do the last couple of months of the season. Since the all-star break, the Sharks are the third worst team in scoring on 5-on-5 play, the other two teams did not make the playoffs.

In general the Sharks players seemed up about the way they played, they just know the must find a way to convert on opportunities, especially on the power play.

Game 2 is Sunday night at 7pm in San Jose.

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Will the real Sharks show up?

Posted by davefowkes on 04/15/2009

We have waited 7 months for the regular season to end and let the real season begin! Playoff hockey is here! Now the question becomes, which San Jose Shark team will show up?

The Sharks won the president’s trophy and home ice advantage throughout the playoffs on their body of work. That body looked great a couple of months ago. But of late it has not looked so hot. The Sharks stumbled through February and March with injuries and as players came back it appeared the Sharks got better. However the Sharks ended their season against the 13th, 14th and 15th best teams in the Western Conference and they went 1-2 with that lone win being a 1-0 shootout win at home over Colorado. Not exactly an awe inspiring finish.

Now they square up with the Anaheim Ducks. I think it is safe to say that if both teams play their best, the Sharks will win the series easy. The question is can the Sharks play their best game?

Let’s face it, the team has not had a real meaningful game since December. Can a veteran team like the Sharks just flip the switch now that it is playoff time? They will need to, they can not afford to take any shifts, periods or games off. It is cliche to say, but the Sharks must play 60-minutes of hockey!

It sounds easy, but that is something the Sharks have really been struggling with. If they play their game the whole 60-minutes I have no doubt they will win. But if they get comfortable or take their collective foot of the gas pedal, the Ducks will win.

The Ducks are known for taking penalties. They have had to kill 85 more power plays then they have had this year. So special teams will likely be the deciding measure for this season. The Sharks lost 5-3 in Los Angeles Saturday to end the season, but the fact that the three goals all came on the power play should not be forgotten.

In the end I think this series will be more about how the Sharks play then how the Ducks do. The Sharks could win in 5 or lose in 6. Will Thornton, Marleau, Nabokov and others take their game to a new level?

Officially I will say Sharks win round one in six games. But I am far from confident with that prediction.

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White beats Cardinal in Stanford Football spring game

Posted by davefowkes on 04/14/2009

It took a little while for the teams to kick it into gear, but when they did it was Andrew Luck leading the White team to a 42-17 win over the Cardinal team in the annual spring football game for Stanford. The red-shirt freshman put on quite a show under the lights at Stanford stadium in front of several hundred Cardinal fans as he tries to earn the starting job this fall. By my very unofficial tally, Luck was 19/26 for 383 yards and five touchdown passes.

Luck and returning starter Tavita Pritchard are competing for the starting job this fall. Pritchard played okay going 14/28 for 178 yards and two touchdowns. His night would have looked better had he not had Luck on the other side of the ball.

Coach Jim Harbaugh certainly noticed the effort by his young quarterback and while he would not commit to a quarterback for the season, Harbaugh did say, “If we started a game tomorrow, Andrew Luck would be our starter.”

Luck really only threw one or two bad passes. At least three of his incomplete passes were dropped passes or his numbers would have been even better.

Down 3-0 after the first quarter, Luck led the White team to its first touchdown. On a third and 16 play, Luck found Richard Sherman down the middle for a completion, and after Sherman put a nice move on the safety it ended with a 41-yard touchdown pass.

Luck’s next touchdown pass also went to Sherman. A nice 17-yard pass over the middle to Sherman who was interfered with trying to get free in the end zone. That score would make it 14-10 at the half in favor of the white squad.

The play of the game came on the first drive of the 3rd quarter. Luck again scrambling threw across his body downfield to Corey Gatewood for a gain of 55 yards. That set up a three yard touchdown run for Jonathan Stewart.

Luck had another great downfield throw to Doug Baldwin for 42 yards right down the sideline. It eventually led to a 20-yard touchdown pass on a fade route to Baldwin. That made the score 28-10 White.

In the fourth quarter, Luck again used his feet to step up in the pocket and fire the ball threw traffic to Ryan Whalen in the back of the end zone for a four yard touchdown pass.

The white would end the scoring in the game on a 4th and 10 play. It was deemed too long for a field goal attempt so they sent Luck and the offense back on the field. Luck fired a bullet 32 yards to the end zone to Coby Fleener who made a nice move on the defender to catch the ball and score the touchdown!

It was an impressive evening for Luck and both players and fans were impressed by what they saw. “That play was all Andrew,” Fleener said of his touchdown catch.

While Luck certainly stood out in the game, there were a number of other stars who made great plays. Pritchard had two short touchdown passes to the flat off of play action fakes. One went to fullback Owen Marecic and the other to running back Blaise Johnson who ran hard all night.

The surprise of the night was linebacker Alex Debniak, who made a few impressive defensive plays for the white, but wowed the crowed with his running ability at the fullback position. He surprised people with back to back runs of 11 and 14 yards in the second quarter. But the big run came in the 4th quarter when he rambled for 59 yards to set up a score. He capped his night on the red’s final drive by stopping a screen pass for a loss of three to set up a third and long.

The Cardinal were without many name players be it Toby Gerhart who was at Sunken Diamond playing baseball, or Delano Howell and Allen Smith who were out with injury. A lot of players played both ways because of that.

In the end it was great to see the Cardinal and White out there on the field. It was football under the lights! Now it is back to the weight room and film rooms for the next few months as they get ready for fall. And for the next four months the topic will continue to be who will start at quarterback for Stanford. Given tonight’s performance, that question may get answered sooner than later.

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Pains me to watch Zito

Posted by davefowkes on 04/11/2009

Anyone else hurt when they watch Barry Zito pitch? From Cy Young winner to just not a very good pitcher.

I am a big fan of Zito from his A’s days, so I do route for him, but there is just not much left to route for. Watching Zito pitch last night was just painful. There is nothing like a three run first inning to instill positive vibes for the rest of the season.

To his credit Zito settled down and only gave up one more run in the next three innings but the damage was done. Zito’s opening start line: 7ip, 4 runs, 7 hits, 4 strikeouts and 2 walks.  That is a line champions are made of!

Zito’s arm strength just is not there so he needs to be perfect in placement. Once or twice this year I am sure that he will be and it will be great to see him shut teams down. Unfortunately it will just be once or twice and the rest of the year we will watch Zito struggle through the season. The Giants offense is better so Zito is unlikely to lose 12 straight games like last year, but it is hard to imagine his upside being above 500 anymore.

The Giants staff will struggle at some point this season with the decision of what to do with Zito. Bench him? Put him in the bullpen? The contract will go down in history as one of the worst.

Zito is a great guy and I hope that he can turn this around, but until he does, it is getting tough to watch!

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A’s pitching off to okay start

Posted by davefowkes on 04/11/2009

The big question coming into the season for Oakland was how would the young pitching staff hold up. Early results are optimistic!

I loved what I saw from 21-year old Brett Anderson last night in his major league debut. Sure he took the loss, but in making his debut in the A’s home opener, he only had one bad inning! Anderson gave up five runs in the second inning. But the other five innings he pitched, he did not give up run. He was 1-2-3 in the first. He did not get himself in a lot of trouble. He was one bad inning from having a great debut! 21-year old pitchers will struggle at times. So to see Anderson come up with a game like that last night, it certainly provides plenty of hope for his future.

Trevor Cahill struggled a bit more in his debut in Anaheim. I did not have the opportunity to watch the game, but as I followed online you could tell he was struggling with his control. Five walks are too many to be giving up regardless of your age. That said, despite his struggles, Cahill fought through it for five innings, and he was an unearned run away from leaving the game with a lead. As his emotions settle down and he gets used to the fact that he is now a major league pitcher, his control should improve.

The “veterans” of the staff also had nice debuts in Anaheim. Dallas Braden was far from special but 6 innings of 3 run ball will win him some games this year. Dana Eveland also suffered from lack of run support while he was on the mound, but he looked like he was ready to take a step forward from last year. Consistency is what killed Eveland last year, so judging him on one game is unfair.

With the offense apparently ready to step up from the last couple of years, these young pitchers should have more run support then their predecessors. We obviously can’t make too much from one game or one start, but I did like what I saw this week and it does give me much hope for the season!

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Sharks clinch west in loss

Posted by davefowkes on 04/09/2009

The good news is the Sharks are the best in the west, the bad news was the 4-1 loss they suffered at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes. Al Montoya was outstanding in shutting down the Sharks making 40 saves on the night. Peter Mueller had a goal and an assist.

Travis Moen scored the Sharks only goal and Evgeni Nabokov made just 13 saves on the night. The Sharks out shot Phoenix 41-17 on the evening. The Sharks really dominated in the third period but Montoya was the star turning just about everything away.

”In my opinion we didn’t start playing until it was 3-0,” Coach Todd McLellan said. “At this time of the year there’s no chance of winning if you make that decision before the game. To wait and see and put your toes in the water to see how cold it is and if you want to jump in or not, it’s disappointing this time of the year. Will has to take precedent over skill… not sure that was the case today.”

Despite the loss the Sharks ended up clinching the top spot in the Western Conference. Detroit lost to Nashville in a shootout just before the Sharks game started and that clinched the top spot for San Jose. However with Boston beating Montreal, the President’s trophy is still up for grabs. The trophy was at the Arena just in case, but it was not needed tonight.

It looked like it might be early, when the Sharks were out shooting Phoenix 5-1 to open the game. But the Coyotes got on the board on their second shot of the game. The first goal was a bang bang play that surprised everybody. Right out of a faceoff to the left of Nabokov, Scottie Upshell got the puck and whipped a quick shot through traffic that Nabokov never saw.

Near the end of the first period the Coyotes would score again thanks to a 5-on-3 power play. After killing off nearly a minute of the two man advantage, Ed Jovanowski got an open luck straight in front of Nabokov and the wrist shot beat Nabokov for the 2-0 lead.

Phoenix made it 3-0 when Milan Michalek’s brother, Zbynek, beat Nabokov from 13-feet with a wrist shot.

The game got physical in the latter half of the second period with a couple of fights breaking out. The first one involved Travis Moen, but the crowd really got excited when little Devin Setoguchi landed some good punches in his fight with Martin Hanzal.

The Sharks finally got on the scoreboard on their 33rd shot of the evening. Moen, fighting for space in front of the net, jammed the puck between Montoya’s pads.

The Sharks certainly had plenty of opportunity for more as they were granted four power play opportunities during the third period. But the special teams unit was cold tonight going 0/6 with a man advantage.

After the last power play failed, the Coyotes put the game away for good. Peter Mueller scored on a 2-on-1 break to make it 4-1 and send the crowd packing on fan appreciation night.

The Sharks did have some good news tonight with the return of Ryan Clowe and Patrick Marleau to the lineup. “I thought Clowe was very good today,” McLellan said. “Out of all injured players that came back I think he’s been, after game one, the sharpest. I thought he made an impact on the game. Patty (Marleau) skated. I’m not too sure their line got a lot done especially in this game we expect more from them. It’s going to take a little time.”

The Sharks last game of the regular season is Saturday in Los Angeles.

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Sharks Get Healthy, Then Get Win

Posted by davefowkes on 04/07/2009

The San Jose Sharks needed a shootout to get their only goal of the game, but that was enough for a 1-0 win over Colorado and two more points in the standings as San Jose march toward the President’s Cup.

 

Joe Pavelski scored a goal in the shootout which proved to be the only goal of the game and Evgeni Nabokov stood tall in net knocking away all three Avalanche attempts to preserve his shutout. Nabokov stopped 20 saves in the game to earn his 41st victory of the year.

 

The two points are important ones for the Sharks who watched Boston lose to Ottawa to start the evening. With the win in hand, the Sharks now has a 5-point lead over Boston and a 6 point lead over Detroit in the race for the President’s Cup and home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Sharks and Red Wings still have two games left while Boston has three.

 

The Sharks also got good news on the ice as they prepare for their playoff run. Mike Grier and Claude Lemieux both returned from the injured reserve to see ice time for the first time in months. Both showed rust, but the Sharks are just happy to see them on the ice with a few games to shake off the rust. Patrick Marleau did not suit up but there is hope for his return on Thursday.

 

The game started off very slow. It is not that either team played particularly badly, it is just that neither team could get a shot on net. Even 2-1 breaks ended with missed passes or off line shots. Colorado held just a 3-2 shot advantage after the first period.

 

“I don’t think we played that well,” Coach McLellan said. “They did a very good job in defending us, getting above us, making it difficult to enter their zone. We didn’t handle it well early in the game. In the second period after we discussed it a little bit, we got going. We can play a lot better and we expect more from each other.”

 

The second period heated up some with San Jose getting 16 shots on net. But at no point could they get one past Peter Budaj who made 30 saves on the night.

 

The Avalanche seemed to control the puck in the third period but Nabokov was excellent make three point blank saves during the period and single handedly saving the game for the Sharks. Colorado would end up taking penalties, one near the end of regulation and one in overtime to give the Sharks a 4-3 advantage for 3 of the 5 overtime minutes. But the Sharks could not score.

 

Finally in the shootout, Pavelski got the puck past Budaj on his stick side. Nabokov shelled Colorado’s three shots while Budaj turned away the final two attempts from San Jose. 1-0 is your final score!

 

“As a team we talk about control… and we ARE in control,” McLellan said of his teams ability to wrap up home ice on Thursday. “It’s where we want to be. But that doesn’t means, the opposition we play against or the other teams we are battling with are just going to roll over and play dead. We don’t expect that. We have to take care of our own business and we look forward to that opportunity on Thursday.”

 

The Sharks wrap up the home season on Thursday night when they host the Phoenix Coyotes.

 

 

 

 

 

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Opening Day Thoughts

Posted by davefowkes on 04/07/2009

Baseball plays for real now! A couple of quick notes from the first day and a half of action:

–So they A’s spent all this money on offense and what does it buy them? Three hits! Whoa! I know it is just one game but that was not what the A’s nation wanted to see on opening night. A 3-0 shutout and just getting three hits. At least it was newcomers Matt Holliday, Orlando Cabrera and what appears to be a healthy Eric Chavez who got them, but I think we all expected more.

–Dallas Braden was okay which is just what I expect from him. He should have a better year than his past but he just does not strike me as the shut down ace of your staff. I am looking forward to Trevor Cahill’s debut tonight and Brett Anderson’s debut on Thursday!

–Apparently the Giants can hit! In a game that may have been rained out, it was the pitchers that got rained on. Nice explosion from an offense that needs all the momentum it can get. Nice to see Travis Ishikawa start out strong. Bengie Molina looked sharp. And Aaron Rowand seems past his bad spring now that the games count for real?

–Tim Lincecum did not look good. I worry about that NOT at all! It just goes to show you how meaningless these long spring trainings can be because in the first month in cold environments, often bad weather, and sometimes just bad pitching, even great pitchers look terrible. Lincecum was off his game, but how about Brandon Webb? How about CC Sabathia? When these guys struggle in June we’ll talk, until then, this is still spring training for some pitchers.

–That said, anytime the Giants win when Lincecum struggles is huge!

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Garcia A Nice Pickup By Raiders

Posted by davefowkes on 04/07/2009

Jeff Garcia is on his way back to the Bay Area, but the surprise is he will be suiting up in Silver and Black this time around. The Oakland Raiders have signed the 10-year veteran to be the backup quarterback for Jamarcus Russell. I am not sure what has gotten into Al Davis, but this seems like a pretty smart move to me!

I’ll start with the negative because that is just the type of guy that I am. I have no idea how Garcia fits into the Raider offense. He is much more of a Rich Gannon type quarterback then they style of play Al Davis likes to play. Will Garcia be successful in the Raider offensive philosophy or will it be more like his Cleveland days?

That being said though the idea of bringing in a veteran to back up Russell is common sense at this point. this is truly a make or break season for Russell. It is not to say that he has to put up pro bowl numbers but it is time to show that he is a legitimate NFL quarterback. The first year was a bust because of a holdout. He showed some signs in a down year last season. Now it is time for Russel to shine.

But if he doesn’t, or more likely if he gets hurt, the Raiders now have  a legitimate quarterback that can come in and keep the boat from sinking. Garcia’s best days are obviously behind him but as he proved in Tampa the last two years, he can still play this game. And if they need him for just a two or three game stint rather than a full season, all the better.

Garcia will bring leadership, heart and desire to a Raider team that has lacked those qualities for years. The price was right, the risk is low, and the reward could be very high. This signing just makes a lot of sense.

Have the Raiders turned over a new leaf?

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Baseball Predictions!

Posted by davefowkes on 04/05/2009

Well I do not see any playoff baseball in our future here in the Bay Area. Both teams could certainly challenge and will hopefully keep us interested throughout the summer, but in the end the fall short, and it will be all about football in October. That said, here are my predictions for Major League Baseball this year.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

WEST

ANGELS

A’S

RANGERS

MARINERS

CENTRAL

TIGERS

TWINS

INDIANS

WHITE SOX

ROYALS

EAST

RED SOX

YANKEES

RAYS

BLUE JAYS

ORIOLES

NATIONAL LEAGUE

WEST

DODGERS

DIAMONDBACKS

GIANTS

ROCKIES

PADRES

CENTRAL

CARDINALS

CUBS

ASTROS

REDS

BREWERS

PIRATES

EAST

METS

PHILLIES

MARLINS

BRAVES

NATIONALS

It is very tough to call this year. I think parity is strong in baseball right now. The AL Central is the real toss up with all five teams able to win. Even the Royals seem to be everyone’s darlings this year. Red Sox, Yankees and Rays should battle to the end in the east. I just don’t like the west much but I think the Angels will prevail.

In the National league, the east is solid as well with the Mets, Phillies and Marlins all looking very good. The Central has five teams that could win it but I like St. Louis if they keep Carpenter and Wainright healthy. And the West should also be close with Arizona having a good team and the Rockies able to mount a challenge, but I think the Dodgers will hold them off.

For the World Series:

METS OVER RED SOX!

And Bill Buckner won’t even be involved!

All guesses, but what the heck, it is something to do. What do you think?

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Giants Destined For Mediocrity (My Giants Preview!)

Posted by davefowkes on 04/05/2009

It is a combination of youth and age that will be on display for the city by the bay. The San Francisco Giants enter the season hoping to mesh their talent into a National League West championship. The Giants will need good health, better luck and Tim Lincecum to make that happen!

I have blogged on the Giants pitching before. It is said to be their strength this year. While I agree it is the strongest part of the team, I still see trouble out there. Lincecum is the ace, I have no problem there. As long as he stays healthy, I see no reason for him not to win 20 games and challenge for a second straight Cy Young.

After Lincecum is where your questions pop up. Matt Cain is all potential and no run support. But at some point he needs to find a way to win close games on his own. Jonathan Sanchez I like a lot, but can he bring it for a full season? Then there is the age and experience of Randy Johnson. It is unbelievable how good he is at 45 but can his back last the whole year? And Barry Zito is still bad until proven otherwise. His fastball looks like mine. If he gets 12 wins the Giants should be very thankful! Still a lot of question marks on a starting five that is supposed to lead the team!

The bullpen is not much different. Brian Wilson established himself as the closer last year. He put up good saves numbers but for anyone who watched the games, it is not like they were 1-2-3 innings every time out. So in his second year does he settle down in the 9th and get better? Or does the league catch up to him and knock him around? Setting up will be the greatness of Bob Howry, Alex Hinshaw, Jeremy Affeldt. There is a lot of youth in the bullpen and that could be a great thing, or not.

The offense should be better than last year, but not significantly. It is all about Pablo Sandoval for the G-men. Sandoval has looked great since being called up last year. The Giants need him to be huge this year. Travis Ishikawa has had a nice spring and has won the first base job. If he can supply some key hits and a few homers that will be a huge plus. Edgar Renteria at shortstop is just fine although he is way over paid. I am not such a fan of Emmanual Burris at second base but he is young and maybe he can show us something this year.

The outfield is mediocre at best. Fred Lewis in left certainly is the hope and dream of Giants fans. Anohter needed commodity for any Giants success. But he has had injury troubles in his first few years. Aaron Rowand looks like he is done. He did not do much last year and followed up with a horrible spring training. He could find himself on the bench by May if he does not pick up his game. Randy Winn keeps on chugging in right.

Bengie Molina is the power hitter behind the plate. Who would have thought 5 years ago that Molina would be a clean up hitter? Yet he is the true star for the Giants lineup. With not much depth behind him, the Giants will need him to stay healthy and catch a lot of games this year.

If Molina is healthy and hits home runs, Sandoval slams the ball around, Lewis takes a big step up and Ishikawa impresses, the Giants are going to make things interesting in the west. If Lincecum is even better than last year, Cain gets offensive support, Sanchez continues to improve and the Big Unit stays healthy, watch out west!

But if any of the above does not fall into place, I see the Giants as an improved team from last year, but not quite ready to play with the big boys. The Giants could easily make things fun in April and May before running out of gas in the summer. Either way they should build on the 72 wins of last year. But I don’t think they are going to reach that 500 plateau. Let’s go with 79 wins for the Giants and a third place finish in a down NL West.

UPDATE:  Count me as one of the many who think it is absolutely silly to keep Sandoval as the backup catcher to Molina. Let the kid learn his trade at third and don’t bog him down with having to worry about catch. Meanwhile they need depth behind Molina to not wear him out. I realize this experiment is likely only for a few weeks, but it can be so limiting during games not having that extra catcher, I am quite sure it will backfire.

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It’s All About Pitching In Oakland (My A’s Preview)

Posted by davefowkes on 04/04/2009

It is pretty easy to figure the Oakland A’s out this season. If their young pitching staff comes through, their 21-year olds turn into phenoms, the A’s will shock the world and run away with the west! But if the young guns need seasoning, if nobody in the rotation steps up to realize the hype, then this season could go down as one of total disappointment that finds the A’s near the bottom of the league!

Yes, there is a huge range for what could lie ahead for Oakland. That range will be narrowed by the greatness or not so greatness of guys named Dallas Braden, Dana Eveland, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Josh Outman, Sean Gallagher and Gio Gonzalez. A’s fans hope they have a big three of the future, but the reality could be they just have young pitchers.

The irony of the A’s is that they spent money this off season, and they have brought in many veteran players to score some runs. But on the mound they are goig to be as young as they ever have been. Braden and Eveland are both 24, Anderson and Cahill both 21. The starting rotation has 16 career wins combined. If this was Kansas City we would be scared! But in Oakland, there is a lot of faith in their young pitching and in their potential. Sky is certainly the limit for guys like Anderson and Cahill. Gio was the top prospect last year and when he fully recovers from injury I am guessing he will be in line for another shot at the rotation should one of the top five guys go down.

Sean Gallagher has been a disappointment since coming over from Chicago in the Rich Harden trade. But he will start in the bullpen in long relief and if he can get his control back will also push for starts if any of the other starters fail.

Josh Outman arrived in the Joe Blanton trade and has surprised many by earning the fifth starters spot. Is he ready for the big leagues?

Dana Eveland was hit and miss last year. He certainly can hurl the ball but can he control where he throws it? He looks like he maxes out about a #3 type pitcher. Dallas Braden stuns all by getting the opening day nod. He has bounced up and down from the minors, to the A’s, and from the bullpen to the starter’s mound. Can he find consistency?

Then of course there are the potential phenoms. Cahill and Anderson are the real deal! But taking that step from prospect to real deal is a huge step. There will be a lot of pressure on these kids and the A’s need them to respond.

And of course I have not even mentioned the “ace” of the squad, Justin Duchsherer who will be out until May. At that point the A’s I am sure will look at their successes. If anyone is struggling, Duke goes back into the rotation, but if everyone is doing well, look for the A’s to try to save his arm by returning him to the bullpen.

The bullpen should be a strength, but the closer position is hardly a guaranty. Brad Ziegler will get the first shot to defend the position he finished the year at last year. Ziegler was great in his rookie season but his style is probably better served in the set up role. That said, nobody could score on Ziegler last year, so until they do, why mess with success? Joey Devine starts on the disabled list and I am worried if they will really get much from him this year. His arm does not sound in the best of shape. I love Santiago Casilla in a set up role. If Ziegler can close the door, the A’s bullpen should be good.

This is the best offense we have seen in Oakland in years. Everyone talks about the infield but I love the outfield. Matt Holiday was of course a great pick up. I look for great things from Ryan Sweeney in center field though. He showed flashes last year but had trouble staying healthy. If he can do that, and avoid a sophomore slump, I think he could be a key to the A’s offense this year. Jack Cust will DH and play right field with help from Travis Buck. Cust so frustrates me with his strikeouts, but his power can not be overlooked.

The infield is as deep as ever. Jason Giambi, Mark Ellis, Orlando Cabrera and (a healthy?) Eric Chavez with Bobby Crosby and Nomar Garciaparra ready to go when needed. I am not a believer in Chavez anymore but when he does go down to injury I do expect a big year from Crosby. A contract year, his benching, good off season training, I think Crosby could surprise a lot of folk if he can get on the field. The DH rotation of Cust, Giambi, Garciaparra should keep a quality bat in the lineup every day and provide ample rest for the older folks.

In conclusion, I like the A’s to score a lot more runs this year! But the reality of the season still comes back to their starting pitching! Statistics would indicate they can not get lucky with all 5 young pitchers being great. The odds say if 2 of them are great, that would be a wonderful find.

When you balance out this, that and the other, I will say the A’s are competitive this season even with a young staff. I will go with 84 wins and second place behind an Angels team that eventually gets healthy and buys themselves another division crown.

I could be right, I could be very wrong, but the reasoning will be clear: As the A’s starting pitching goes, so goes the A’s successes or failures! It is quite cut and dry!

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