03/26/12 12:30 PM ET
A's see 2012 as beginning of steady rise
From Cespedes to Milone, fresh faces eager to make noise
By Jane Lee / MLB.com
That means they're opting for a winning atmosphere now, not later.
"There are some teams in our division that can probably say, 'All right, we expect to be here,'" manager Bob Melvin said. "I don't expect us to be anywhere but the next day, the next game and expect to win that game. That's what I talk to these guys about."
The A's journey begins earlier than most, as the club is set to open the regular season on Wednesday with the start of a two-game series against the Mariners at the Tokyo Dome, marking its second trip to Japan in five years.
Right-hander Brandon McCarthy, who just one year ago was simply trying to find room in a crowded rotation, will take the mound for the A's as the unspoken leader of a fresh-faced staff that will also include veteran Bartolo Colon and youngsters Tommy Milone, Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey -- the latter three of whom have made a combined 17 Major League starts.
Gone are Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, who, like closer Andrew Bailey, were traded during the offseason. But the A's still believe that pitching is one of their biggest strengths, and they're ready to prove it.
"Obviously, we're not as experienced, but we feel like the upside amongst all the guys that will be incorporated -- the talent level is all there, and they're only going to get better over the course of the season," Melvin said. "They're just not as far along as a guy like a Bailey or Gonzalez and Cahill."
"I think the talent's here," McCarthy said. "It's a good group of guys that works hard and is very serious about what they're doing."
They've got help behind them, including new center fielder Yoenis Cespedes -- brought in via a four-year, $36 million deal -- and right fielder Josh Reddick, acquired from the Red Sox in the Bailey trade. Cespedes is something of a gamble, given that he has no Major League experience, but that's the way the small-market A's have to go about their business, and they're hoping he turns out to be the power hitter they've envisioned plugging into a lackluster lineup for several years.
Not much power exists outside of Cespedes, though -- at least not at first glance.
"He obviously brings a little more of the power element, plus some more speed," Coco Crisp said of Cespedes. "But I think some other guys are going to shock some people this year. I think when people say we don't have power, my response is, 'It's there; it's just unproven at this level.'"
Still, it remains a challenge for a club that will look to collect wins utilizing other strengths, including speed and defense. The speedy switch-hitting trio of Jemile Weeks, Cliff Pennington and Crisp are penciled into the Nos. 1-3 spots in the order -- a group that should find its way on base in front of the likes of Cespedes and the designated-hitter platoon of Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes.
Even Manny Ramirez could potentially join in that mix come May 30, following his 50-game suspension.
"People don't think our offense is very good, but I do," Melvin said. "I think our offense will be better than people think, because of the personnel that's here. We have some unknowns. Certainly, our center fielder is an unknown. If we get down that road and add Manny [Ramirez] after those 50 games [of suspension], that's another potential upgrade to the offense. So I think we're an intriguing team, more so than we were three weeks before Spring Training started."
"I think with the additions," Crisp said, "our attack can be a little bit more well balanced, and that will give us the opportunity to win in different fashions, as opposed to just relying on our pitching, which last year was our backbone. I'm pretty confident in our team and in our ability as a ballclub."
The A's are in search of a winning record for the first time since 2006, though a popular notion in the baseball community is that if Oakland can at least match the 74-88 mark it posted last year, the season will be considered a success.
Perhaps that's true, given the challenges presented by the A's American League West rivals -- particularly the potent Rangers and Angels. But despite their underdog status following a busy and strange offseason, the A's aren't yet raising the white flag.
"I think our energy is our biggest strength," Weeks said. "Our hunger to win is there."
"I'm excited about where this team is going," Melvin said. "This could be the start of something that we feel is going to get better each and every year."