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ALDS Preview: Oakland Athletics VS Minnesota Twins

Meet baseball's OTHER hottest team.

Since the All Star break, the Twins are 49-27, winning at a .645 cip.  Oakland is 48-26 since the break, good for a winning percentage of .649.  Since the mid-summer classic, it's been the A's who were baseball's hottest team.

Oakland won the AL West three times between 2000-2003, and won the Wild Card the one season they didn't take the division crown.  While missing the playoffs in both 2004 and 2005, the Athletics still managed second place finishes, with good teams.  Back to October baseball this season with another division title and a 93-69 record, the A's have somehow managed to fly under the radar of the national media.  For a team that's more on the financial level of the Twins than perennial contenders like Boston or New York, it's really quite surprising they didn't get more attention.

This year's incarnation of Billy Beane's boys is, admittedly, deceptively dangerous.  When you glance at the lineup and the staff of young pitching, there aren't an abundance of names jumping off the paper.  But if you're a fan of the Twins, then you isn't the names winning ballgames.  Oakland has an abundance of plus players with the skills necessary to win; nothing else matters.

Coming into this season, Oakland was in the second year of a rebuild.  While Zito and Chavez remained, the core was changing from the championship runs of years prior.  In order to bridge the gap between raw, talented, ungroomed younger players and the team's established players, the Athletics went shopping.  It should be no surprise, but Beane found exactly what he needed on the free agent market.  The names may have been damaged goods, but for the upside and the price, it's hard to go wrong.

Frank Thomas was signed for $500,000.  At 38 years old, Thomas hit .270/.380/.545 in 137 games, with 39 homers, 114 RBI and a 1:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

Esteban Loaiza, 34, logged 154.2 innings and an 11-9 record.  While he missed all of May, he did exactly what the A's needed him to do:  eat up innings and give enough quality starts to be successful.  With Zito being 28 and established, the majority of the starters Oakland had to rely on were young and unproven...although talented.  Rich Harden is 24, Dan Haren just turned 26, Joe Blanton is 25 and Kirk Saarloos is 27.  Loaiza was for the A's what Brad Radke would have been for the Twins if he had been a free agent in 2006:  you know what you're going to get, and as long as you get it and have that stability, you've got a lot going for you.

Other acquisitions like Milton Bradley (.276/.370/.447) and Brad Halsey (94.1, 4.67, 5-4) have helped supplement the lineup and the bullpen, leaving the younger players with less pressure to deal with in regards to the success of the team.

In the end, what Oakland brings to the table is similar to what the Twins bring:  Good defense, solid pitching and enough offense to make things interesting.  For more on the Athletics and a preview on the series from the Oakland side of things, be sure to check out Athletics Nation.

Position Player Matchups

Name            AB 2B HR RBI  Avg  Obp  Slg  VORP
Jason Kendall  552 23  1  50 .295 .367 .342  12.1
Joe Mauer      521 36 13  84 .347 .429 .507  66.6

I've always been a huge fan of Kendall as a player, and I was happy (and surprised) when he was dealt to Oakland for, basically, slop.  He's gunned down a shade over 30% of runners on stolen base attempts which, while not necessarily an imposing number, is certainly high enough where steals aren't automatic.  Kendall has been in the league a long time, knows his role and won't make many mistakes.  Any notions of power have been left in the past, but he's still a dangerous hitter who knows how to get on base.

Joe Mauer has had an amazing season.  After batting .400 into July, he finishes the season at .347 with a batting title.  He's thrown out 38% of base stealers.  More impressive than the percentage is the respect for Mauer's arm, reflected by the low number of stolen base attempts:  58.  Kendall was run on 102 times.

Advantage:  Twins

First Base
Name            AB 2B HR RBI  Avg  Obp  Slg  VORP
Nick Swisher   556 24 35  95 .254 .372 .493  26.9
Justin Morneau 592 37 34 130 .321 .375 .559  51.8

Nick Swisher struck out 152 times, which honestly, is borderline pathetic.  BUT, he also walked 97 times, which is where that awesome OBP comes into play.  Working deep counts and strike zone judgement are more important than plate discipline in Oakland, and Swisher embodies this fact.  Twenty years ago, the .254 batting average and 35 homers would have pigeon-holed Nick as a typical power guy...but he's not.  He'll strike out, but he's patient and willing to wait for his pitch.  He'll make you pay for your mistakes.  Nick Swisher is a very good hitter.

Justin Morneau should be one of the top three MVP candidates in the American League.  It's hard to say where the Twins would be without him, but it's easy to say they wouldn't be where they are now and they wouldn't be nearly as dangerous.  While he only walked 53 times, he also only struck out 97 times...or, as often as Swisher walked.  The holes in Justin's swing have largely been resolved, as he can take pitches the other way or can pull them and knock one out.  That low and away breaking ball isn't half as nerve-wracking for me as it was last season.  Simply put, Morneau is more than a power hitter, he's a good hitter period.

Advantage:  Twins

Second Base
Name           AB 2B HR RBI  Avg  Obp  Slg  VORP
Mark Ellis    441 25 11  52 .249 .319 .385   6.4
Luis Castillo 584 22  3  49 .296 .358 .370  21.2

This season for Ellis isn't nearly as good as the season he had in 2005.  Apart from the higher strikeout rate, the hits that fell last year haven't fallen this year.  In spite of this, he's turned 91 double plays this season, and hosts a range factor of 5.30 at second base.  In the end, second base is traditionally more of a defensive/speed position anyway, making Mark's sup-par offensive season easier to absorb.

Castillo's defense has been better as the season has progressed.  His effort looks better as he appears to get to a few more balls, although it's just as likely that his positioning has improved as he's adjusted to the turf, players and style of play in the American League.  Still, it's obvious that his knees and legs bother him, and at times it shows.  Offensively, he's actually having a year close to his career averages.  His 25 stolen bases are the most he's snagged since his 48 in 2002.

Advantage:  Twins

Third Base
Name         AB 2B HR RBI  Avg  Obp  Slg  VORP
Eric Chavez 485 24 22  72 .241 .351 .435  11.9
Nick Punto  459 21  1  45 .290 .352 .373   9.1

Chavez began the year with a bang, hitting .301/.392/.687 in April, with 5 doubles, 9 homers and 20 RBI.  Every month after that he struggled, especially in regards to his career averages, until September when he hit .243/.352/.568.  Mostly this is just an off-year for the perennial Gold Glove contender.  His strikeouts weren't up, his walk rates WERE up, and his power was down.  All bets are off in October though, and I'd put money on Chavez being more akin to his historical self than his 2006 self.

Nick Punto is about as unlikely of an everyday third baseman as you can have.  There is virtually zero power.  He does reach base however, and was hitting .320/.402/.422 as late as August 19.  Since then he's cooled off, as his September numbers are more similar to his career numbers.  Defensively he's done a fine job; range, arm strength and quickness are all a plus.  Pound-for-pound, his forarms are bigger than yours.

Advantage:  Athletics

Name            AB 2B HR RBI  Avg  Obp  Slg  VORP
Marco Scutaro  365 21  5  41 .266 .350 .397  13.9
Jason Bartlett 333 18  2  32 .309 .367 .393  16.2

Marco Scutaro has been forced to play a bit of everyday shortstop this year, as Bobby Crosby has had health issues and hasn't played since August 21.  Although after the season Crosby was having, the A's are better off with Scutaro, at least for this year.  Scutaro has been adequate though largely unimpressive, hitting well with a good walk-to-strikeout ratio.  Defensively is a lot of the same, as Scutaro is good enough to make the occassional impression with his glove.  Much like Brad Johnson won't lose the game for the Vikings but usually isn't going to win one either, Scutaro fits this mold.

Bartlett has been riding high ever since his arrival to the bigs for good on June 14.  Days off were non-existant, and from the way he played, it looked like he didn't need one.  He swung a hot bat until September, but the defense has continued to impress on nearly an everyday basis.  His range is surprising and his arm strength and agility are impressive, reaching balls in shallow left field and throwing runners out at first on a regular basis.

Advantage:  Twins

The Outfield
Name             AB 2B HR RBI  Avg  Obp  Slg  VORP
Jay Payton      557 32 10  59 .296 .325 .418   9.7
Mark Kotsay     502 29  7  59 .275 .332 .386   8.9
Milton Bradley  351 14 14  52 .276 .370 .447  17.2

Michael Cuddyer 557 41 24 109 .284 .362 .504  36.1
Torii Hunter    557 21 31  98 .278 .336 .490  32.5
Jason Tyner     218  5  0  18 .312 .345 .353   1.2

Oakland's outfield is built well.  There aren't any superstars, but each of these three guys gets the job done.  Payton and Bradley bring speed to the game, and Kotsay doesn't clog the basepaths, either.  Kotsay's season has to largely be a disappointment, but he doesn't strike out too often.  Payton has excellent gap power and, with all of eight stolen bases, is third on the team in that category.  Second is Bradley, who was solid in September, with 10 steals.  Catcher Jason Kendall leads the team with 11.  While Payton and Kotsay are probably better suited for the bottom of Oakland's batting order, Bradley is an excellent table setter.

Minnesota's outfield has a bit of everything, on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.  Cuddyer had a breakout season with his bat, and has gotten comfortable roaming right field.  His arm shouldn't be tested often.  Hunter, it could be argued, also had a career year, even with a bum wheel.  His foot is supposedly feeling better, and it's showing in the field.  Tyner, with no power at the plate, has beaten out numerous infield singles.  His speed allows him good range in left field, and his arm is adequate with a surprising amount of accuracy.

Advantage:  Twins

Designated Hitter
Name           AB 2B HR RBI  Avg  Obp  Slg  VORP
Frank Thomas  466 11 39 114 .270 .381 .545  40.3
Rondell White 337 17  7  38 .246 .276 .365 -13.1

Welcome back to the land of the living, Frank Thomas.  Thomas has to be the leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, as well as Bargain of the Year.  He missed a little bit of time earlier in the season, but since has amassed a sick number of statistics in all the right areas.  He walked and struck out 81 times, for cryin' out loud.  Personally, I still think he looks wrong in a green uniform.  But I'd still rather have him in Oakland than Chicago.

White's first half was pathetic.  Since then he's hit fairly well, especially recently, hitting .351/.392/.568 in September.  Frankly, finishing the season with his OPS at .641 is quite an accomplishment, considering it was barely over .400 back in June.  Now, Rondell White is more like his old self.

Advantage:  Athletics

The Benches

It really depends on who each team brings, but my thoughts are that Oakland is stronger here.  At posting, neither team's website from had posted playoff rosters.  According to this page, the Athletics have the advantage.  While the Twins have Mike Redmond, a valuable hitter and capable backup catcher, this is their top option.  Lew Ford is a versatile outfield option, Luis Rodriguez (probably going) is a versatile 2B, 3B, SS option and Phil Nevin is a great bat to have coming off the bench against southpaws.  The Athletics are just more versatile with players like Bobby Kielty and D'Angelo Jimenez, and they have an abundance of switch hitters.

Advantage:  Athletics

Name              IP   ERA   W  L  WHIP   K/9  VORP
Barry Zito     221.0  3.83  16 10  1.40  6.15  51.0
Esteban Loaiza 154.2  4.89  11  9  1.42  5.64  12.7

Johan Santana  233.2  2.77  19  6  1.00  9.44  79.7
Boof Bonser    100.1  4.22   7  6  1.28  7.53  17.9
Brad Radke     162.1  4.32  12  9  1.41  4.60  23.4

If Brad Radke suddenly can't go in Game 3, there could be problems for the Twins, who would probably go with Matt Garza.  For Oakland, there is solid starting pitching no matter who they choose for Game 3.  While Rich Harden is probably the odds-on favorite, he's only recently returned from the disabled list, meaning the A's could choose Dan Haren.  Stay tuned.

Advantage:  Twins

The Bullpen
Name                 IP   ERA  SV  WHIP   K/9  VORP
Huston Street      70.2  3.31  37  1.09  8.53  20.0
Justin Duchscherer 55.2  2.91   9  1.10  8.25  19.8
Kiko Calero        58.0  3.41   2  1.28 10.40  17.5
Scott Sauerbeck    25.1  4.97   0  1.58  6.04   0.4
Brad Halsey        94.1  4.67   0  1.63  5.06  11.2

Joe Nathan         68.1  1.58  38  0.79 12.51  34.5
Juan Rincon        74.1  2.91   3  1.35  7.87  20.6
Dennys Reyes       50.2  0.89   1  0.99  8.70  26.5
Pat Neshek         37.0  2.19   2  0.78 12.89  16.2
Jesse Crain        76.2  3.52   4  1.27  7.04  21.1

Three relievers with sub-1.00 WHIPs, four relievers with sub-3.00 ERAs.  That's tough to beat, for any team.  Oakland has other options they may take with them, including Jay Witasick and Chad Gaudin, but in spite of having more ammunition it's the Twins with the big guns.  Regardless of who else the Twins take, Minnesota is tough when you get past the starting pitcher.

Advantage:  Twins


It's going to be a fun series...even though most of us will be at work.  I predict the Twins will win the series in four or five hard fought games, with the A's winning one in Oakland and possibly Game 2 here in Minneapolis.

As I mentioned earlier, be sure to drop by Athletics Nation, and feel free to post a comment or two.  Also, baseballgirl posted a little something on the right, if you're like her and me and can't stand the fact that a friggin' playoff game is being played at friggin' noon. starts soon!  GO TWINS!