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Despite big losses, A's keep winning

Oakland traded Haren and Swisher in the off-season, but team has hung tough with the Angels and help is on the way after injuries.

June 06, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND -- The team that was supposed to provide the stiffest challenge to the Angels, the Seattle Mariners, has been buried in the American League West, 15 1/2 games back and sporting baseball's worst record (21-39) after the Angels completed a three-game sweep in Safeco Field on Wednesday.

And the team that was supposed to roll over in the division, the one that was in obvious rebuilding mode after trading away its best pitcher and position player last winter?

The Oakland Athletics, with their $48-million payroll -- less than half of the Angels' $119-million payroll -- are right on the Angels' heels, 3 1/2 games back entering tonight's game against their AL West rivals in McAfee Coliseum and showing no signs of fading.

While Mariners Manager John McLaren launched into an obscenity-laced tirade and General Manager Bill Bavasi ordered players to stand at their lockers to answer questions about their poor play Wednesday afternoon, the A's were completing a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers to improve to 33-27.

"You would think with the way we've been playing we would shake them and be six or seven games up, but no, they're still 3 1/2 back, playing well, getting the job done," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said of the A's.

"A lot of people thought they'd be in last place, but I said in spring training, Oakland could be better than what people think. They have a lot of talent, guys who are patient at the plate. They're young guys, and they're hungry. You would think consistency would be a problem, but they've been consistent."

The small-market A's seem to be in perennial makeover mode, with GM Billy Beane regularly overhauling the roster by jettisoning high-priced players for low-priced youngsters.

But many thought Beane went too far last winter when he traded ace Dan Haren to Arizona and outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher to the Chicago White Sox, moves that appeared to gut the rotation and the lineup.

No wonder Beane is considered one of baseball's brightest GMs. The guy obviously knew what he was doing.

Two of the pitchers he acquired for Haren, left-handers Greg Smith (3-4, 3.56 earned-run average) and Dana Eveland (4-4, 3.82 ERA), have been key starters on a pitching staff that ranks third in the league in ERA (3.48) and strikeouts (426) and has given up only 38 home runs, second-fewest in the major leagues.

Outfielder Ryan Sweeney, one of the players acquired for Swisher, was hitting .293 with 22 runs batted in before going on the disabled list May 29 because of a toe injury.

Shortstop Bobby Crosby, who sat out large chunks of the previous three seasons to injury, is finally sound and hitting .265 with 32 RBIs. Emil Brown (.252, five homers, 37 RBIs) and Jack Cust (.249, nine homers, 24 RBIs) have been solid on offense.

And ace Rich Harden (3-0 with a 2.61 ERA) and power-hitting third baseman Eric Chavez recently returned from injury.

"The way we saw Oakland the last few years and in spring training, there's nothing surprising about what they've done," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "You see a Harden come back, a Joe Blanton, some of the young pitchers have pitched very well. . . .

"They have the ability to win games much like we are, with good pitching and by playing great baseball. They have a lot more talent than people in the media and some fans gave them credit for."

And more on the way. The A's have already used the DL 15 times this season, seven short of their season record, and they currently have eight players on the DL, including designated hitter Frank Thomas and two Sweeneys, Ryan and Mike, also a DH.

"Right now, we're not even firing on all cylinders," Beane said after Wednesday's win. "We have eight guys on the DL. Everyone in the room is pleased with where we're at right now, given the changes we made, but we're always thinking the team could get better. And we still think that when we're back at full strength."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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