Oakland Still Searching For Athletic Hitters

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 10: Mark Ellis #14 of the Oakland Athletics jumps out of the way of a ball thrown by relief pitcher Alex Burnett #31 of the Minnesota Twins during the eighth inning of their game on April 10, 2011 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Athletics defeated the Twins 5-3. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

A year ago, the Oakland A's finished dead even: 81 wins, 81 losses.

The A's might actually have been a little better than that; they actually outscored their opponents by 37 runs, and might almost as easily have gone 85-77 (or for that matter, 89-73).

Still, the A's didn't play well enough to seriously challenge for the division title, and the problem was obvious.

Oakland's pitchers -- including four promising young starters and a fine relief corps -- led the American League with a 3.56 ERA.

Oakland's hitters finished 11th in the American League in scoring.

Now, the combination of first in ERA and 11th in scoring really isn't so bad; that's how you outscore your opponents by 37 runs. Looking to the next season, though a) outscoring your opponents by 37 runs isn't good enough, and 2) anyway, you can't count on leading your league in ERA every season.

Naturally, management made some moves to beef up the hitting attack.

These moves included (and essentially were confined to):

* replacing DH Jack Cust with Hideki Matsui,

* replacing a bunch of right fielders with David DeJesus, and

* replacing a bunch of left fielders with Josh Willingham.

And the result of all this?

The 2011 Oakland Athletics, thanks to a group of young starting pitchers and a fine relief corps, lead the American League with a 2.66 ERA.

Oakland's hitters rank 13th in the American League in scoring.

The A's, with the best pitching (or if you prefer, pitching and defense) in the league, have outscored their opponents by exactly three runs. Which should make them roughly a .500 team. Which they are. Just like last year.

What's amazing about the A's is that nobody is doing anything. In April, crazy things are supposed to happen. Some good, some bad. But the A's don't have a single .300 hitter on the roster. The A's don't have a .290 hitter on the roster. They do have a .280 hitter on the roster: Coco Crisp is batting .286 ... with a .293 on-base percentage.

Yes, there's more to life than batting average. Crisp leads the club with a .440 slugging percentage. Daric Barton leads the way with a .350 on-base percentage ... and he's got a .289 slugging percentage.

Oh, and the newcomers? The best you can say about them is that Willingham does lead the A's with three home runs and 13 RBI. He's also got a .234/.326/.390 line, which is obviously unacceptable for a slow left fielder.

Matsui, coming off a fine season with the Angels, is hitting worse than league average for the first time in his career.

And DeJesus has been awful: low batting average, few walks, no power at all.

It's still only April. Willingham or Matsui or DeJesus is bound to start hitting, eventually. At least one of them, and perhaps all three.

Still, at some point people are going to start wondering if there's just nothing to be done about it. Unless you count strikeout machine Jack Cust, the A's haven't featured an excellent every-day hitter since Nick Swisher in 2007. The only blemish on Matt Holliday's (now) six-season run of awesomeness is his 93-game stint with the A's in 2009.

Or maybe it's just been a lousy month. We've got five more months to find out. Now, if only the pitchers can hold on for that long ...

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