Series Preview #20: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Oakland Athletics

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 07: Brandon Moss #37, Jemile Weeks #19, Collin Cowgill #12, and Coco Crisp #4 celebrate defeating the Texas Rangers 7 to 1 at O.co Coliseum on June 7, 2012 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Last year's late summer hit, Moneyball, was an thrilling baseball movie about the 2002 Oakland Athletics, a plucky, small-market team that overcomes the odds and makes the playoffs despite having to pay for soda in the clubhouse. Also, the fat kid from Superbad talked about numbers and other nerdy stuff. Regardless, the movie was poignant and oddly uplifting in a very sports-movie sort of way.

But that won't do. This is Hollywood, and if there's one thing Hollywood loves, it's gritty reboots of franchises. Reimagining an old story on a darker timeline with more complicated characters often helps explore deeper truths about beloved stories by providing an intriguing new lens to view them through. Also, it's totally not a shameless cash grab that attempts to repackage someone else's story with a few explosions and pass it off as originality. Why would you think such mean things?

Regardless, here is the synopsis of my proposed gritty reboot of the Moneyball franchise.

Moneyball 2012: Walks to Perdition

Our story takes place ten years after the original, in a post-apocalyptic suburb of San Francisco known only as "Oak-Land." Despite the team's triumphs in the early part of the decade, the Athletics have fallen on hard times, and the success of their regional rivals, the San Francisco Giants, has pushed what was already a small market onto the verge of extinction.

And to make matters worse, the A's genius general manager, Billy Beane, may have finally lost his touch. In a stroke of meta-commentary that would make Dan Harmon blush, the demise of the Athletics has to do with the story of Moneyball itself, as its arrival in mainstream media allowed other teams to perfect the system and leave the Athletics behind. In recent years, Billy Beane has nearly driven himself crazy attempting to replicate the success that defined him early in his career. These days, he wakes himself up at night with screams of "PUT IN HATTY!" before sweet unconsciousness claims his mind again.

With division rivals Texas and Anaheim as the clear favorites, Beane's only path to success becomes clear. They must sell off all of their fan favorites, tank the season, and alienate their fanbase in order to force Bud Selig's hand, allowing them to escape their mausoleum (both existential and literal) for the brighter economic lands of San Jose. There are no goofy, side-arming relievers or catcher-cum-first-basemen in this story. There are only hard choices and one man's struggle to fight against an indecent world with indecency of his own.

Even the stock characters have grown darker. Where once there was David Justice, a noble, once-great player attempting to recapture his former glory on a new team, now there is Manny Ramirez, controversial even in his prime, now reduced to OPSing .543 for Triple-A Sacramento, showing the darker, unseen side of aging role players. A team once built upon OBP sees even its foundations fall to ashes, as the A's rank second-to-last in all of baseball at getting on base.

There is no happy ending this time around, no playoff berth for a plucky team. There is only uncertainty, both fiscal and existential. The movie ends with Billy Beane at the trade deadline, staring off into the distance at a Ricardo Rincon that is not there. He thinks to himself,

"Maybe I would be better off selling jeans."

~FIN~

I think this movie has some real potential. Or at least, it has at least as much potential as Oakland's lineup.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):


Arizona
(27-30)
Oakland
(26-32)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 92 78
Arizona
Pitching (FIP-):
98 101
Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
17.5 8.7 Arizona

The A's have gotten what they've paid for from their offense. Which is to say, they haven't gotten much from their offense. Their team batting line is .214/.291/.339, which looks unsettling similar to Ryan Roberts' line on the season, and you've all watched Roberts enough this season to know that I don't mean that as a compliment. The A's have a solid team ERA of 3.56, but they've gotten lucky with their BABIP so far, and it's not a given that this will continue.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Willie Bloomquist, SS
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Justin Upton?, RF
4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
5. Chris Young, CF
6. Jason Kubel, LF
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Ryan Roberts, 3B

Oakland Athletics

1. Jemile Weeks, 2B
2. Cliff Pennington, SS
3. Josh Reddick, RF
4. Yoenis Cespedes, CF
5. Seth Smith, LF
6. Brandon Inge, 3B
7. Kila Ka'aihue, 1B
8. Kurt Suzuki, C

  • I accidentally typed a question mark next to Justin Upton's name in the lineup. I decided to keep it because there's no way that's not my subconscious trying to tell me something.
  • Jemile Weeks has an OBP of .307. This is not good, particularly for a leadoff hitter, and his SLG% is .325 so it's not like he's making up for it with power. This is not really a criticism of the A's lineup construction though, since he still has the fourth-highest OBP among starters, and everyone higher is needed in the middle of the order. This isn't a Willie Bloomquist scenario: the A's honestly just don't have anyone who would make a better leadoff hitter than Jemile Weeks.
  • The A's have gotten a .536 OPS from third base this year. You know how third base has felt like a gurgling vortex of suck all season, no matter whether it's Roberts, Bell or Ransom carrying the mantle for the day? Well, the Diamondbacks' third base OPS has been .634, almost one hundred points higher than what A's fans have seen. Perspective!
  • I've never watched Yoenis Cespedes play, because A's. From what I understand, he's some freakish hybrid of Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, and Wily Mo Pena all cracked out on Red Bull. In the dark days before the internet, MLB Extra Innings, and interleague play, people's perceptions of players from other leagues was seemingly based largely on hearsay. In that sense, Cespedes feels like something from 1959, and I love it.
  • I could be wrong, but I really don't think Josh Reddick was supposed to do this. He was a fourth outfielder for the Red Sox, who seemingly had the ceiling of a fringe starter. Anytime you're the centerpiece of a trade for a reliever, it's a pretty good sign that your team doesn't think all that highly of you. But so far, he has a OPS+ of 138 in 2012.
  • Brandon Moss, Kila Ka'aihue, Daric Barton, and Brandon Allen have combined for a .641 OPS at first base. Two of them are no longer in the majors. I wish I could take this bullet point back to 2009 to show to everyone who thought they knew something about first base prospects, including me.
Pitching Matchups

Friday: Daniel Hudson (2-1, 4.65) vs.Tom Milone (6-5, 3.53)

Insightful Commentary: Padre starts at Petco always deserve an asterisk, but Hudson was tremendous last time out, throwing eight innings of two-run ball. He's quietly pitched better since coming off the DL, and here's hoping it fixed whatever was ailing him in his starts before the injury as well.

You might remember Milone as one of the prospects that no one could believe the Nats were willing to part with for Gio Gonzalez. He's a lefty, and with an arsenal that features a fastball that tops out at barely 90 MPH, he may one day be known as "crafty." But he's only 25, which seems far too young for a crafty lefty. Are crafty lefties born, or made?

Saturday: Trevor Cahill (3-5, 3.45) vs. Jarrod Parker (2-2, 2.40)

Insightful Commentary: There have been plenty of criticisms of the Cahill trade. I mean, yeah, almost all of which have come from shoewizard, but that's irrelevant. This feels like a reckoning of the trade, with him going against his former team, but it's important to keep in mind that he really hasn't been that bad. Cahill has the second-best ERA and FIP among D-Back starters this year, and the only think keeping him from even improving on those numbers is his own consistency with his sinker.

Likewise, Parker isn't the great white whale he's been made out to be either. His last start was incredible, and his 2.40 ERA is eye-catching, but there are some concerns hidden under there. His BB/9 is 4.44, rather high considering that he hasn't struck a ton of guys out so far. And Oakland or not, at some point he's going to give up more than one home run, and his ERA will drop accordingly. In conclusion, most of Cahill's peripherals are stronger, and he's been doing it in a hitter's park. I'm not claiming the trade was a win, but it wasn't the blatant loss that people are painting it to be.
Sunday: Joe Saunders (3-4, 3.65) vs. Travis Blackley (0-1, 3.45)

Insightful Commentary: With Saunders struggling since the beginning of May, the delayed-but-inevitable calls to DFA Saunders for Bauer have begun in earnest. It's a hard stance to take, supporting Saunders in the rotation (for non-Rockstarr fans, at least). To be pro-Saunders is to be anti-Bauer, and it's very, very difficult to be anti-Bauer. Still, this team is only three games under .500 at this point, and I'm not convinced, as much as I love Bauer, that he can come in and produce a 3.65 ERA this year the way that Saunders has.

"Minor-league journeyman" doesn't quite do Blackley justice. He's been in professional baseball since 2004, and been a part of ten different franchises, including one that's just labelled "Mexican." Moreover, this time last month, he was on the Giants, which seems like something I'd remember, but maybe Travis Blackley just isn't that memorable.

Final Verdict: We've won three straight series! Against mediocre-to-awful competition! The Athletics aren't great, but they're probably the best team we've played since Los Angeles, factoring in the difference in leagues. Still, the D-Backs' offensive improvement gives me hope that they can outscore the light-hitting Athletics and take the series two games to one.

Head over to Athletics Nation for the latest in A's news.

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