There’s something rather interesting going on over in the AL West; the only four team division in baseball is really only offering three different teams this year. There are still four franchises, but Oakland and Seattle have apparently decided to put the exact same team on the field this year.
If you go to the team pages here on the site, it’s impossible to avoid the similarities. We’ll start on the mound, which is where both teams strengths lie.
SEA: 2.78 BB/9, 7.26 K/9, 0.55 HR/9, 44.6% GB%, .290 BABIP, 5.8% HR/FB, 3.10 FIP, 3.50 xFIP
OAK: 2.97 BB/9, 7.11 K/9, 0.55 HR/9, 49.4% GB%, .288 BABIP, 6.5% HR/FB, 3.18 FIP, 3.45 xFIP
Both pitching staffs have accumulated +7.7 WAR which puts them in a tie for first place in the American League. In both scenarios, the starting rotation has done the bulk of the good work, with both teams receiving quality performances from every member of their rotation.
Both staffs have also had to adjust to losing their closers to injuries, as David Aardsma and Andrew Bailey have spent the entire year on the DL. Replacement closers Brandon League (three consecutive blown saves) and Brian Fuentes (AL leading six losses) have both struggled at times, but their bullpens have been rescued by nondescript afterthoughts with similar names – David Pauley in Seattle, David Purcey in Oakland.
While the pitchers are the strength of both organizations, the position players are another story. Billy Beane and Jack Zduriencik both put together rosters of players who had good defensive reputations and hoped to get enough offense from a few key hitters to make up for the fact that neither team had much in the way of power. Well, the no power aspect has turned out to be true, as the Mariners are last in the Majors in home runs with 24 – the A’s have 25, and are only ahead of the M’s in launching balls over the fence.
Additionally, the defense part of that “pitching and defense” strategy hasn’t exactly played out for either team yet. The Mariners have the worst UZR in the American League at -16.8, just fractionally behind the A’s, who stand at -16.4. Both teams tried sacrificing defense for offense in left field, going with Milton Bradley and Josh Willingham respectively, and it hasn’t worked out in either case. Bradley has already been released, and while the A’s are likely to stick with Willingham, you do wonder if they might eventually move him to DH if Hideki Matsui doesn’t start hitting soon.
Speaking of DHs, the Mariners are using ex-Athletic Jack Cust at the position. While he’s still walking as frequently as normal, he still has yet to hit a home run all season, and his lack of power has forced the team to use the likes of Adam Kennedy and Miguel Olivo in the clean-up spot at times. The A’s can empathize, as they also have a high walk hitter in the middle of their order who has yet to leave the yard – that being Daric Barton.
The similarities extend even to the standings. The Mariners are 22-24, while the A’s are 22-25. Both teams are 11-12 at home; Seattle has a half game advantage on the road, where they are 11-12 compared to the 11-13 mark the A’s have put up away from the bay. And, to top it off, affter yesterday’s games both teams are currently the owners of five game streaks – the Mariners have won five in a row, while the A’s have lost five in a row.
I don’t think either GM set out to have a roster like this, as both teams made moves over the winter to try and improve their on their offensive problems of a year ago. In both cases, however, it hasn’t helped, and the teams are being carried by epic performances from their starting pitchers.
It will be interesting to see how both teams choose to play out the rest of the season. The A’s had hopes of contending this year, but they might have to admit that there are too many problems on the offensive side of things to keep up with a healthy Rangers team. The Mariners are still trying to rebuild around some young talent, but given last year’s disaster and dramatic declines in attendance, there might be some organizational pressure to add talent and try to see how far a great rotation (and not much else) can carry them.
Both teams are going to have some decisions to make in the next few months. They might have the two best rotations in the American League, but both teams face similar problems elsewhere on the roster. If you ever needed evidence that pitching doesn’t win championships by itself, you can simply point to this year’s A’s and Mariners rosters as prime examples. Great pitching is nice, but you need to be able to hit and field too.
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