1 Oakland Athletics Watch out, world: The A's are even better than last year. Just ask them

March 26, 2001

Maybe this is the year the Athletics win a postseason series for
the first time since Bush the Elder was in the White House. Maybe
the 60% of Oakland's rotation that has never pitched 200 innings
in a season will find out what it's like to carry a full workload
in the big leagues, and maybe Oakland's runners will quit pulling
up at each base as if it had a keg parked on it. If so, they will
not have snuck up on anybody. You can hear the brashest bunch in
baseball coming. "High expectations are a prerequisite to high
achievement," general manager Billy Beane says. "They used that
saying for the Apollo missions. I like the sound of it. We're not
afraid of the expectations."

To hear team executives and players tell it, Generation A's is
upon us. After getting a taste of the postseason last year--the
Athletics put a five-game scare into the Yankees in the American
League Division Series--the best team $40 million can buy (or
rent) wants the whole enchilada.

"The exciting part," says first baseman Jason Giambi, "is we know
we're better than we were last year." Giambi, 30, is the team
elder who still is young enough to say that one of the high
points of his winter as reigning MVP was "hangin' with the guys
from *NSync in Vegas." He has improved his RBI output every year
since he broke into the big leagues in 1995.

The Oakland franchise has its own impressive growth chart. The
team has increased its win total for four consecutive seasons,
from 65 wins in 1997 to 91 last year. Losing to New York in the
Division Series actually emboldened the A's. "I don't want to say
that was the World Series right there," says Tim Hudson, the
team's 25-year-old ace, "but [the Yankees] walked out of it
wiping the sweat off their foreheads. It might have been
different if we'd had a chance to line up our pitching." Hudson
and half-season rookie wonder Barry Zito were available for only
one start each against New York, because they were needed to hold
off Seattle and win the AL West title on the last weekend of the
regular season. Gil Heredia, a 34-year-old journeyman, started
the deciding game against the Yankees. He didn't make it out of
the first inning, and the A's lost 7-5.

Even before that game, Beane had put all of baseball on notice by
declaring, "We think this will be our worst club over the next
five years. You'd better beat us now." The A's are even better
than Beane imagined then, thanks to what may turn out to be a
one-year rental of leftfielder Johnny Damon, who led the league
in runs (136) and steals (46) with the Royals in 2000. In the
three-way trade that brought Damon--who is eligible for free
agency after the season--to Oakland, Beane shipped outfielder Ben
Grieve, who was coming off a 104-RBI season, to Tampa Bay, which
then sent closer Roberto Hernandez to the Royals. "We're better
because we have Damon for a whole year, Zito for a whole year and
[setup man] Jim Mecir for a whole year," Beane says. (Mecir was a
July trade acquisition.) "People look at Johnny's speed, but he
had a better slugging percentage than Ben."

"Damon's huge," says Giambi. "We haven't had a true leadoff
hitter since Rickey [Henderson]."

"Now," Beane says, "I guess we'll have to have a steal sign."

Damon attempted as many stolen bases last year as the entire
Oakland team, whose 55 tries were easily the fewest in the
majors. The Athletics also attempted the fewest hit-and-run
plays, 32, one every week or so. They can, however, bludgeon
teams with home runs, many of which follow the walks they bleed
out of opponents.

If the A's ascension continues, though, it'll be on the homegrown
arms of Hudson, Zito and Mark Mulder. Hudson, a ferocious
competitor who rarely throws a pitch above the kneecap, is the
only one of the three to have pitched a full year in the majors.
Heredia and Omar Olivares fill out a promising but still fragile
rotation.

If Jose Ortiz, the Pacific Coast League MVP, nails down the
second base job as expected and Adam Piatt platoons in rightfield
with Jeremy Giambi, on many days every starter but the resident
*NSync fan will be a twentysomething. "That's good," Beane says,
"because we can't afford injuries, and young teams don't break
down as much as older teams."

Oakland is a young team in a hurry, like that kid in the backseat
asking, "Are we there yet?" before the station wagon has left the
driveway. This season just might be the A's big arrival. Or
haven't you been listening?

--T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN As the ace of the Athletics, Hudson will carry a heavy load, leading a staff that's talented but short on major league experience.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID SEELIG/ICON JASON GIAMBI

[ENEMY LINES]
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Athletics

"The A's will win the West. They have a young club that's
already been there, and Johnny Damon takes them a notch higher.
Damon is a .300 hitter who can steal a base. He's instant
pressure on the defense. He's 20 more RBIs for Jason Giambi....I
put Art Howe in the same class as Dusty Baker. He knows how to
handle different personalities, and he doesn't overmanage....I
love Miguel Tejada. He hits for power, hits for average, has a
strong throwing arm....The A's have something special up the
middle. Jose Ortiz has power; he could hit 15 to 20
homers....Giambi is one of the two or three best lefthanded
hitters in the game. He's a below-average defensive first
baseman, though....Eric Chavez will hit 30 to 40 home runs, but
his arm isn't strong. He has a lot of air under his throws, and
defensively he needs to work....I love Olmedo Saenz. He can play
either corner, he can DH, he's a better-than-average fielder. He
could be a 25-homer guy....Jeremy Giambi is an extra guy. Adam
Piatt is not good defensively, but if he hits enough, he's a
better player than Giambi....Ramon Hernandez is a legit No. 1
guy. He handles the pitchers very well....Barry Zito has pool
shark in him. He knows if he can't throw back-to-back fastballs
by you, he'll sneak in a curve....I love Tim Hudson. He doesn't
throw anything straight. Everything has sink and tail and
fade.... Jason Isringhausen is a solid closer--very live
fastball and his curveball is better than he thinks....Jim Mecir
is a perfect setup guy; he has a good screwball with good
command."

[THE LINEUP]
projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 91-70 (first in AL West)
Manager: Art Howe (sixth season with Oakland)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

LF Johnny Damon[1] L 16 .327 16 88 46
2B Jose Ortiz* (R) R 160 .351 24 108 22
1B Jason Giambi L-R 13 .333 43 137 2
DH John Jaha R 179 .175 1 5 1
3B Eric Chavez L-R 50 .277 26 86 2
SS Miguel Tejada R 51 .275 30 115 6
CF Terrence Long L 121 .288 18 80 5
RF Jeremy Giambi L 188 .254 10 50 0
C Ramon Hernandez R 205 .241 14 62 1

BENCH

IF Olmedo Saenz R 222 .313 9 33 1
OF Adam Piatt R 273 .299 5 23 0
IF Frank Menechino R 309 .255 6 26 1
C Sal Fasano R 371 .214 7 19 0

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Tim Hudson 12 20 6 6.3 1.24 4.14
LH Barry Zito 37 7 4 6.6 1.18 2.72
RH Gil Heredia 57 15 11 6.2 1.41 4.12
LH Mark Mulder 147 9 10 5.7 1.69 5.44
RH Omar Olivares 325 4 8 5.6 1.80 6.75

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Jason Isringhausen 43 6 4 33 1.43 3.78
RH Jim Mecir 117 10 3 5 1.25 2.96
RH Jeff Tam 293 3 3 3 1.27 2.63
RH T.J. Mathews 313 2 3 0 1.64 6.03
LH Mike Magnante 335 1 1 0 1.74 4.31
LH Mark Guthrie[1][2] 252 3 6 0 1.50 4.67
RH Cory Lidle[1] 292 4 6 0 1.48 5.03

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Triple A stats
[2]Combined AL and NL stats

"Damon takes them a notch higher. He can steal. He's instant
pressure on the defense."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)