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Behind Enemy Lines: Talking familiar faces and young pitching with Athletics Nation

Alex Hall of Athletics Nation stopped by to help us preview the upcoming Tigers-A’s series.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers are kicking off the ever-dreaded west coast swing on Friday as they face the Oakland Athletics in the first of a three-game series. This is the first meeting between the two teams this year.

To help familiarize you with what’s going on with the A’s, Alex Hall, editor-in-chief of Athletics Nation, agreed to answer a few of my dumb questions (and some smart-ish ones too).

BYB: What were the expectations for the A's coming into the season? Now that we're approaching 30 games in, what are your thoughts on the team at this point in the 2017 campaign?

Alex: This was always a rebuilding year, so we entered with an appropriately low level of expectation -- .500 felt like a best-case scenario, and the important thing was developing some rookies for the long-term. So far, nothing much has changed on that front. The veteran stopgap lineup is as uninspiring as expected, on both sides of the ball, and the club is 12-16.

Injuries aren't helping. The A's have already used the DL 12 times this year, and seven times just since Opening Day. In particular, they've lost shortstop Marcus Semien for at least a couple months, and four starting pitchers have already missed time -- Sonny, Graveman, Manana, Mengden, plus Bassitt who had TJS last season. Some of that has been Oakland making liberal use of the new 10-day DL (for example, Graveman only missed one start and is already back), but no matter how you slice it they've had way too many health problems for one month. This has also led to constant roster churn, as they've made either an MLB roster move or a trade in 13 of the last 20 days (as of May 4).

But there's good news! Another expectation we all had was that the Opening Day roster would look nothing at all like the group we'll see in September. There's a whole lineup of quality prospects in Triple-A, and the next couple months will hopefully be all about watching those guys force their way up and replace the chaff on the current squad. If we finish the season with at least five or six rookies in the lineup, and with half of them hitting well, and most or all staying healthy, then the inevitable losing season will have been productive at least. That is an absolutely attainable goal if the A's are willing to jump in with both feet.

BYB: You have a starting rotation (when healthy) that features two fairly young and inexperienced arms in Jharel Cotton and Sean Manaea. Do you feel like you're seeing the cornerstones of the next great A's rotation with these two arms?

Alex: That's how we felt entering the year. And we still love those guys! But Manaea is already hurt, and Cotton is off to the kind of inconsistent start you might expect from a rookie hurler. We'll know a lot more about them in five months.

The quality in the rotation has actually come from a couple unexpected sources in the early going. The clear star has been Andrew Triggs, a sidearmer and converted reliever. Not Sonny the former ace, not Manaea and Cotton the top prospects, but Triggs the former middle reliever. Hey, we'll take what we can get. Jesse Hahn has also been excellent, which is an encouraging sign -- he was a high-upside youngster before his command disappeared last year, but he seems to have it back so far.

BYB: Why doesn't Ryon Healy spell his name correctly, and does that have something to do with his baseball abilities?

Alex: My answer is in video form:

BYB: Rajai Davis is a player we here in Detroit are quite familiar with. Oakland went out and dropped a cool $6,000,000.00 on him in the offseason. Do you think that was money well spent, and how are you feeling about his performance so far this season?

Alex: Dang, you really squeezed as many zeroes in there as you could. But yes, Rajai was still worth signing. Oakland's CF was the worst in MLB last year, and they needed help there immediately. At the very least, Rajai can play decent defense up the middle, and on top of that he's a former Oakland fan favorite so that's a nice bonus -- remember, he made his name here before embarking on a long career.

So, Rajai is part of that core of veteran stopgaps that we hope will fade away as the year progresses, but he was still worth bringing here because the other option was literally minor league free agents (like Jaff Decker, bless his heart).

BYB: Baby Giraffe is Sean Manaea's nickname. I realize this is a statement and not a question. Feel free to share your thoughts regarding this piece of information.

Alex: The only thing preventing this from being an awesome nickname is that Brandon Belt of the Giants is also known as Baby Giraffe, even before Manaea got to Oakland. The Giants really just ruin everything.

Anyway, here's a comic about giraffes.

This is, indeed, a comic about giraffes
Image courtesy of fatrolf at Athletics Nation

BYB: Which Tigers player are you least looking forward to watching the A's face this series and why?

Alex: Ewww, K-Rod. He still has the stink of Angels all over him. Plus if he plays then I guess you're leading the game.

BYB: Oakland is getting a new stadium, which I'm just going to go ahead and assume you're stoked about. What's the timeline for completion on that project?

Alex: Before the end of 2017, the team will announce a site, a ground-breaking date, and a timeline for a new stadium in Oakland. That is the promise they made over the offseason. That's all we know for now, but it's all good news. We're excited about the stadium issue for the first time in over a decade. And with the Warriors and Raiders both imminently leaving, the A's will be Oakland's last remaining team in a few years.

BYB: Sean Doolittle just landed on the disabled list again. He has a guaranteed contract through 2018, and has a team option in both 2019 and 2020 (if I'm not mistaken). As things stand right now, do you see him as a meaningful part of the bullpen going forward, or has his propensity to consistently injure something made him too unreliable?

Alex: It's impossible to say, but this is the third straight year he's missing time due to shoulder injuries. Furthermore, the team sounded like this might be another long absence. None of that is good or promising information. So no, it's getting harder and harder to see Doo as a reliable, meaningful part of the pen, which is too bad because he looked awesome to start the season.

BYB: Kendall Graveman is showing a decent amount of success throwing almost entirely fastballs so far this season. Do you think what he's doing is sustainable?

Alex: Last year Graveman narrowed his arsenal so that he throws almost entirely sinkers, with great success, and he's carried the game plan over to this year. That 95 mph sinker is good enough to get the job done with only minor assistance, helping him approach the mid-rotation ceiling we'd hoped for out of him. Plus we can make gravedigger jokes when he gets the opponent to pound everything on the ground.

Thanks again to Alex for answering our Athletics related questions. You can find him, and any Athletics related news and analysis you might need over at Athletics Nation.