The A's start off the season facing Felix Hernandez and the Mariners, which is already a sign of a tougher season ahead than 2006. The A's beat the Mariners 17 times out of 19 last year, a lot of which had to do with the fact that the A's only faced Hernandez once last year, but matched up against Joel Pineiro six times. Pineiro isn't around to pick on anymore.
But the more I think about Travis Buck making the opening day lineup for the A's, and having Todd Walker replace Antonio Perez on the roster, the more optimistic I get about the 2007 season. I like it because it gives the A's a solid, major league player at every position on the field, both starting AND backup. When you look at the Walker/Kielty backup platoon, and realize that when an A's 1B/OF takes a day off, his replacement will have a .350 OBP, while other teams in the division may have half their starting lineups with OBPs under .330, the A's will be competitive every day.
Watching A's starting lineup in recent games, I've been really happy with their batting approach. This team will work the count, and not in a passive way like some of their predecessor A's teams. With the possible exception of Bobby Crosby, whom I haven't seen enough of yet to judge, I'm confident that this lineup will give the pitcher a tough at-bat every at-bat, one through nine. If the starting pitcher doesn't throw strikes, he's going to reach his pitch count limit very early, and if he does, the A's will be taking good swings at them. High pitch counts may not matter much against a team like the Angels, who have a bullpen as deep as the Grand Canyon (as do the A's, particularly if Chad Gaudin isn't pressed into starting duty), but against Seattle and Texas, who have one good reliever each and a otherwise bunch of question marks, a lot of games can be won in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings in this division.
The cause for concern, of course, is the starting pitching, which is taking more of a stars-and-scrubs approach, rather than the deep rotations A's fans have been accustomed to in recent years. Loaiza, Blanton, and Kennedy aren't going to inspire much poetry and song, and neither, apparently are their replacements in Sacramento, should one of the starters go down. It's about quantity over quality. The Sacramento rotation will be five or six deep in starting pitchers who reasonably be considered decent #5 pitchers in the majors. Accumulate enough guys who are capable of mediocrity, and you should be able to find a subset of them who actually provide it. The A's hope they can get .500 ball out of these guys, and then let Harden and Haren take care of the rest. It's not my favorite way to approach the problem, but I suppose it might work, so I'll choose, on this day, to be optimistic about it.