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1 Oakland Athletics World Series or bust! No excuses for a club that has stalled in the first playoff round

March 31, 2003
March 31, 2003

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March 31, 2003

Baseball Preview 2003

1 Oakland Athletics World Series or bust! No excuses for a club that has stalled in the first playoff round

It has been almost three years since general manager Billy Beane,
standing in a somber A's locker room after a Division Series Game
5 loss to the Yankees, sent this message: "We think this is our
worst club over the next five years. You'd better beat us now."
That ticking sound you hear is either Oakland's biological
clock--the team has already said it cannot afford to re-sign
shortstop Miguel Tejada, who will become a free agent after the
season, and third baseman Eric Chavez could follow Tejada out the
door a year later--or Beane's quickening pulse. Though the A's
have, indeed, won more games in each succeeding season, they
still haven't gotten over the playoff hump.

This is an article from the March 31, 2003 issue

In the last three postseasons, against the Yankees two years in a
row and the Twins last year, Oakland played six games--four of
them at home--in which a victory would have put the team in the
American League Championship Series. The A's lost them all.

"The first day of camp this spring," says pitching coach Rick
Peterson, "Tim Hudson said to me, 'You know what? It would be a
real shame, with all the talent we have here, if we don't win at
least one championship.' These guys are well aware of what
they're up against. They're on a mission."

The A's routinely buzz through the regular season by supporting
their premier starting pitching with mostly walks and home runs.
Oakland tried fewer hit-and-runs (34) and stolen bases (66) than
any other team in the majors last year. Just call them the
UnAthletics. But that big-bang strategy, especially effective
against second-line pitching, hasn't worked against playoff
teams. In the six squandered playoff clinchers, Oakland scored a
total of 16 runs and held the lead after only one of 54 innings.
Not even the trio of Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito can be
expected to overcome that lack of support.

After pitching well down the stretch last year, Hudson strained a
muscle in his hip while playing catch the day before his last
regular-season start. He was torched in two starts against the
Twins. "I don't want to use [the injury] as an excuse," he says,
"but losing [that Division Series] really hurt. Hell, they all
hurt. We felt like we were the better team all three years, but
it didn't happen."

Unbowed, Oakland will push the rock up the hill in exactly the
same way: Let Hudson, Mulder and Zito pile up more than half the
team's wins and treat the closer as an easily replenishable
resource. There were only 15 pitchers in the majors last year who
won 15 games, had an ERA lower than 3.50 and threw 200 innings.
Oakland had three of them. Hudson, Mulder and Zito were 149-66
(.693) over the past three seasons for a team that otherwise was
147-123 (.544).

With that kind of pitching, the A's can live with mediocrity on
offense, which is how they won 103 games last year despite
ranking ninth in the majors in runs. Exhibit A is first baseman
Erubiel Durazo, whom Beane has coveted for three years. The
29-year-old Durazo, who was acquired from Arizona in December in a
four-team trade, hasn't batted 250 times in a season, does not
play any position very well (he'll be Oakland's designated
hitter), doesn't run well and breaks down more than a '77 Vega,
but he has a .390 on-base percentage and surprising power.

Beane also acquired righthander Keith Foulke in a trade with the
White Sox. Foulke follows Billy Taylor, Jason Isringhausen and
Billy Koch as Oakland's closer. Hitters had a tougher time
reaching base last year against Foulke (.263 OBP) than against
Koch (.314), though Foulke lost his job as the White Sox' closer.
"I basically had three bad weeks," Foulke says. "I agreed to step
back from closing until I got my stuff back, but after I got it
back they still didn't use me [to close]. The trade turned out
for the best."

The gravitational core of this club remains Hudson, Mulder and
Zito. They have started 11 of the team's 15 playoff games over
the past three years. If Oakland is to shed its image as the
Adlai Stevenson of baseball, that too must start with them.
--Tom Verducci

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER PRECIOUS METAL In addition to winning a Gold Glove, Chavez was the AL's Silver Slugger award winner at third base.COLOR PHOTO: JED JACOBSOHN/GETTY IMAGES FOULKE

IN FACT
Eric Chavez led the A's with eight stolen bases in 2002, the
lowest total to lead the club since Russ Snyder had seven in
1960.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the A's

"There's not a better pitching staff out there, and I think Barry
Zito is the best of the bunch. His curveball is paralyzing....
The biggest surprise of the spring has been Ted Lilly. He's made
big changes mechanically and become a power pitcher. He's
throwing so much more smoothly. Also, Aaron Harang has a
much-improved changeup.... Keith Foulke has the best changeup in
the game. He can get just as many saves as Billy Koch did....
Miguel Tejada is the real thing. With Tejada it's all about
motivation, and that won't be a problem this season because he's
the reigning MVP and in the last year of his contract.... Billy
Beane's life mission was to get Erubiel Durazo--and he did, with
good reason. Durazo's got the numbers to back him up.... What
they did last year with Scott Hatteberg, using him at first and
as a DH, was very creative. Anyone who saw him with the Red Sox
knows that he's not a catcher. And they did the right thing by
moving Terrence Long from center to left.... Eric Chavez is one
of the top five third basemen in baseball.... The concern I have
with this team is the bench. They have no lefthanded bats other
than Jason Grabowski."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

2B Ellis
1B Hatteberg
SS Tejada
3B Chavez
RF Dye
DH Durazo
LF Long
C Hernandez
CF Singleton

MARK ELLIS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 219 .272 6 35 4

SCOTT HATTEBERG

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 157 .280 15 61 0

MIGUEL TEJADA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 10 .308 34 131 7

ERIC CHAVEZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 23 .275 34 109 8

JERMAINE DYE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 48 .252 24 86 2

TERRENCE LONG

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 139 .240 16 67 3

RAMON HERNANDEZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 233 .233 7 42 0

CHRIS SINGLETON[#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 174 .262 9 50 20

BENCH

ADAM PIATT

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 280 .234 5 18 2

FRANK MENECHINO

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 318 .205 3 15 0

DESIGNATED HITTER

ERUBIEL DURAZO[#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 110 .261 16 48 0

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Barry Zito 3 23 5 6.6 1.13 2.75
RH Tim Hudson 14 15 9 7.0 1.25 2.98
LH Mark Mulder 6 19 7 6.9 1.14 3.47
LH Ted Lilly 121 5 7 5.6 1.11 3.69
LH John Halama[#] 188 6 5 5.0 1.44 3.56

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Keith Foulke[#] 57 2 4 11 1.00 2.90
RH Chad Bradford 179 4 2 2 1.15 3.11
LH Ricardo Rincon 227 1 4 1 1.04 4.18

[#]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 157)

2002 RECORD
103-59
first in AL West

MANAGER
Ken Macha
first season with Oakland