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A's lack power... but they're still winning

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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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DETROIT

Kendry Morales, the Angels’ best hitter, broke his leg during a postgame celebration. He might miss the rest of the season.

Nelson Cruz, an All-Star bopper for the Rangers last year, landed on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring.

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It wasn’t a banner holiday weekend for American League West sluggers.

Good thing the A’s don’t have one.

Really. They don’t. Of the 14 AL teams, 13 employ at least one player who has hit five home runs this season. And then there is Oakland.

An odd statistic, I know. But it’s nothing compared with this: It is June 1, and the A’s are in first place.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised. Two rivals have been depleted by key injuries, and Oakland has been pitching like its neighbor across the bay.

The A’s just took three of four from a good Detroit team. During their current 8-2 run, they have allowed one or zero runs six times.

Next stop: Fenway Park and a date with the all-better-now Red Sox.

“We can compete with any other team out there,” third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff said. “I really believe that. We’ve proven that we can hang with good teams.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re underdogs (in the division).”

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Not anymore, given that the Angels and Rangers are playing shorthanded. But don’t expect the A’s to revel in the misfortune of their rivals. They know, as well as any team, how devastating it can be when the disabled list starts looking like an Opening Day lineup.

Two years ago, Oakland used the DL a club-record 25 times. This year’s tally is already 14, including several names you know: Justin Duchscherer, Joey Devine, Eric Chavez, Travis Buck and Coco Crisp.

“We haven’t been healthy all year — the whole lineup,” said Mark Ellis, himself just back from the infirmary.

Common sense says that L.A. and Texas won’t score as many runs as they once did. And if 3-2 and 2-1 games become the flavor of the season, the A’s will be contending in September.

When parity reigns, pitching wins.

“We don’t have anybody that we say, ‘We’d better win today, because he’s pitching tomorrow,’” Oakland manager Bob Geren said of his rotation. “Every one of them, we feel, can win.”

Through Sunday, the A’s ranked fourth in the AL with a 3.77 rotation ERA. But the current group is better than that figure suggests — even with Duchscherer out for the season because of hip surgery.

Consider the current starting five:

  •  Ben Sheets, the veteran ace, has a 2.81 ERA over his past five starts. The A’s are 4-1 in those games.
  • Stud left-hander Brett Anderson is healthy again. He fired 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Tigers in his return from the DL. (“A big boost,” Geren said.)
  • Gio Gonzalez (5-3, 3.54) and Trevor Cahill (4-2, 3.02) are vastly improved over last season.
  • Oh, and Dallas Braden threw a perfect game. But you knew that.

Sheets is 31. The other starters are 26 or younger; Anderson and Cahill are 22.

An excellent young rotation. Isn’t that what every manager wants?

“Really good pitching,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I like them a lot. They’re a very good team.

“With the type of pitching they have, if they can get in (to the playoffs), they’re going to be tough to handle because the pitching’s so good.”

The defense has been excellent, too. But before we start comparing Gabe Gross to Joe Rudi, I should point out the offense has been lousy.

The A’s have hit only 30 homers this season, tied for the fewest in the AL. Their overall scoring output through Sunday (201 runs) was the lowest of any over-.500 team in the majors.

Kouzmanoff and Kurt Suzuki, the Nos. 4 and 5 hitters on Opening Day, are both hitting under .250.

Ryan Sweeney was the only .300 hitter in Monday’s lineup … but he has only one home run, hardly sufficient for an everyday right fielder.

You get the idea.

“They got to get some oomph,” one National League executive said.

The A’s are getting below-average production at designated hitter and all three outfield positions, as judged by OPS. Fortunately for general manager Billy Beane, corner bats are available every July — at reasonable cost in prospects.

Well, how about Josh Willingham, Corey Hart, Jose Guillen, Luke Scott or Garrett Jones?

If and when those players become available over the next two months, Oakland should be among the first to inquire. And sources say the A’s will have the payroll flexibility to make a move — if they stay healthy and remain competitive in the division.

Of course, the team’s first preference would be to promote a power bat from within. But prospects Chris Carter and Michael Taylor are hitting in the .230s at Triple-A Sacramento.

In some respects, the ’10 A’s are similar to the ’09 Mariners, who pitched and caught their way to an 85-win season.

That Seattle team had a modest lineup and negative run differential, but fans overlooked such things amid the giddiness of one taut win after another.

But this has a different feel, for one very big reason. Last year, it took 97 victories to claim the division. This year, 87 might do it. And that’s why there should be a lot of believers in the East Bay.

Tagged: Angels, Athletics, Rangers

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