A's seem to have closed gap on Angels
The race in the American League West in 2008 essentially ended on July 8, the day the A's, only five games out of first place, traded pitcher Rich Harden to the Cubs. The race officially ended three weeks later when the Angels traded for Mark Teixeira. Eventually, the Angels won the division by 21 games, the largest margin of any division race since 1999.It will be a lot closer in 2009. The Angels, who won 100 games last year, are still the favorite, but they lost Teixeira and closer Francisco Rodriguez (62 saves) to free agency. And the A's, who won 75 games last year, have done a marvelous job of upgrading a terrible offense by trading for outfielder Matt Holliday and signing free-agent first baseman/designated hitter Jason Giambi.
“"But we're not anticipating that,'' Beane said. They plan to be in it all year because of Holliday, Giambi and the return to health of third baseman Eric Chavez. The A's need Giambi because their designated hitters had only 64 RBIs last year and their first basemen had 63. Giambi will play first and DH, but Beane said he expects a turnaround season from young first baseman Daric Barton, who hit .226 last year. "That was not indicative of the way Daric can swing the bat,'' Beane said. "And he is a very good defensive first baseman.'' Giambi likely will get more at-bats as a DH, allowing Cust to play more in the outfield because he's more productive there than as a DH. Chavez, 31, has been limited to 113 games played in the last two years combined because of a back injury. Beane says Chavez is "feeling great. He is really motivated. He has really missed playing. When healthy, he's one of the best third basemen in the game, a 30/100 [home runs/RBIs] guy.'' It's possible that Chavez, Giambi and Holliday will each drive in at least 80 runs in 2009, something that no A's player did in 2008. That will greatly benefit a pitching staff that last year had a 4.01 ERA, 10th-best in the major leagues. Their bullpen ERA was 3.50, fourth-best in the majors, second-best in the AL. The 'pen is young -- Beane says he's looking for a veteran presence in the bullpen -- but Brad Ziegler (11 saves, 1.06 ERA) and Joey Devine (0.59 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in 45 2/3 innings ) were so good down the stretch last year, it allowed the A's to trade closer Huston Street in the deal to get Holliday.
We've improved. But the Angels are the team to beat even though they've had some significant losses.” -- A's general manager Billy Beane
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