We have heard quite a bit from Athletics Nation over the past couple years -- and for good reason: they're awesome -- so it comes as no surprise that we exchanged questions with them again before this year's ALDS. Alan Torres (@cuppingmaster on Twitter) answered six questions for us about this year's A's team.
1. Bartolo Colon pretty much just throws one pitch, but he still finished the season with a 2.65 ERA in 190 1/3 innings, including three shutouts. How has the guy that flamed out with the Angels and Red Sox after his 2005 Cy Young season come back to life in Oakland without his old stuff?
It's a popular saying that Colon throws one one pitch, but he's a pro at throwing mostly fastballs (both two- and four-seam) and mixing in enough sliders to keep hitters honest. He has all kinds of natural movement that he can float over the corners, especially to righties. Plus, I wouldn't really say he's missing a whole lot of stuff. Here are the pitch speeds by type from his last tuneup of the year in Seattle, in MPH:
Both the fastballs are some of the best velocity he's had all year. He can pump it to 96 if he needs it still. Granted, he hasn't maintained that velocity all year - he went through a significant dead-arm old-guy period mid-August through late August, and ended up on the DL with a groin issue - but that has really helped him maintain velocity into the season. To be sure, he's not the same type of pitcher he was in his Cleveland and Anaheim days with him sitting at 94-95 the whole game, but he's made up for that with the tremendous two-seam movement.
2. Back in March, Josh Donaldson was some dude that I picked up late in my fantasy draft because he hit a few homers during Spring Training and was 3B-eligible. Now, he's deserving of a top-5 MVP finish (if not higher). What the heck happened?
Donaldson started focusing in on certain parts of the plate, is what really happened. In his cups of coffee in 2011 and early 2012, he was a free-swinger who really tried to hit everything that came at him. Since his late season callup in 2012, however, he's concentrated on the inner half. In addition, he's really become adept at stroking outside pitches between second and first for a single or driving them into the RCF gap for a double. He's also a great defender at 3B, which makes up for some of Jed Lowrie's well-known defensive shortcomings. So while he's not the hitter that Miguel Cabrera is, he makes up for it by being valuable on both sides of the ball.
He looked for a long time like an AAAA player, and there are questions about his swing (hint: don't teach your kids to swing like Josh Donaldson), but he's had bonafide, unquestionable success at this level now.
3. Piggybacking on your question about how the Tigers' roster is constructed, I want to hear your take on the A's. They have won a ton of games during the Billy Beane era, but haven't had much playoff success. Is this because of the lack of a bona fide superstar on their roster, or is there a different reason for their struggles?
Those 2001-2003 teams were as talented as anyone else's. There is no explanation other than the randomness of MLB playoffs that caused those teams to be bounced earlier. Granted, the A's blew 2-0 series leads twice during that time, but their fate is more a story of randomness than anything.
In 2000 and 2006, the A's did not have teams that were as good as the other playoff teams. The former team met a superstar-ladden Yankees team in the LDS and Gil Heredia (!!) started game 1, and the latter team met up with a similarly-superstar laden Tigers team in the LCS. Frankly, I was surprised those teams even made the playoffs, let alone the 2006 team advancing past the LDS.
Last year, the A's again met up with a superstar-filled team and the pitching was just too strong for a relatively inexperienced and K-prone team to overcome. That said, they were a Coco Crisp dropped flyball and a wild pitch away from taking the series. This year, they are much more experienced and also don't lead the world in strikeouts against a strikeout heavy staff, nor do they rely on a Jonny Gomes/Chris Carter RH platoon for a significant offensive contribution. I expect them to go far.
4. Let's say the series goes to a Game 5. You get to choose which Tigers starter the A's face (assume they're all on full rest), and Doug Fister doesn't count. Who seems the most beatable, and why?
Anibal Sanchez would be the guy I'd pick. Stuff-wise, he's just not on the same level as Scherzer and Verlander. I realize that's a rather strange thing to say about the pitcher who led the AL in both FIP and ERA, but he seems eminently more beatable. I feel like Scherzer and Verlander can bring out the latent high-K tendencies in some of the A's hitters (Moss, Cespedes, Donaldson) with their mid-to-high 90s fastballs, whereas the A's may be able to wait Sanchez out. On the other hand, throwing Sanchez in Game 3 could prove to be something that comes back to bite Leyland in the ass, since he could very well dominate.
5. Which A's player (or two) has the biggest impact on the series?
Moss and Cespedes. If either or both of those guys has a good series, the A's offense will roll and can overcome most bullpen or starting pitcher issues. With Cespedes, there's an additional wrinkle of his shoulder health right now. If he can't play, LF defense will suffer with Moss there at not at 1B/DH. With Moss, as shown in the last series the A's played in Detroit, he can really get hot and carry an offense. If cold, he's a 2 K a game sort of guy.
6. Let's hear your pick for the series. Do the A's get revenge for 2006 and 2012?
A's in 4. I was thinking they'd have to sweep to win before, but the more that I think about it, a sweep seems unlikely and one of Scherzer, Verlander, or Sanchez is likely to dominate. I really do think this is a much more patient team than last year's that can push the starters pitch counts into the 100s in the 5th or 6th inning. Once it's a bullpen game, the A's have a distinct advantage.