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Questions from Athletics Nation

To hold you over until the preview comes out this afternoon.

Rick Yeatts

While setting up today's A's preview (it will be up later this afternoon), cuppingmaster of Athletics Nation asked if I'd be interested in doing a quick Q&A about the Sox. You can read my answers to his questions here. I figured I'd get in on the fun as well and asked our new friend some questions about our current opponent.

Most people did not expect the A's would repeat last year's magic and be one of the best teams in the American League, but here we are. Do you think they'll be able to keep it up and snag one of the Wild Card spots or somehow upend the Rangers?

I think the A's have a very good shot at a wild card spot and a more outside shot at the division. Say the A's simply repeat the record they had through the first third of the season two more times. That puts them at 93 wins and likely a wild card spot. Of the other likely wild card contenders, the Angels and Orioles are reminiscent of the late 90s/early aughts Texas teams: all offense, bereft of pitching. No offense intended, but none of the AL Central teams other than the Tigers appear to have the capability of getting to more than 86 wins or so. The biggest question is how well the THIRD place team of New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Tampa does, as one of the wild cards is bound to come from the AL East.

All that said, it was crazy that the A's won the division last year and it's not out of the question it could happen again, so long as the pitching holds up.

Why can't Brett Anderson stay healthy? Is he cursed?

He already had the Tommy John surgery, but what seems to fail him is his mechanics. He strained an oblique last year down the stretch after a hugely successful comeback post-surgery, and this year he somehow ended up with a stress fracture in his foot. Was it that 19-inning affair with the Angels that did it, or something else? Either this guy has bad luck, or it's something about his delivery. I'll bet the latter.

Of course, I could be wrong. In fact, his previous injuries were arm-related and these are not. I'd love to be wrong, because it is unfortunate how such a gifted arm can be attached to a body that does not have the skill of remaining healthy.

How did Josh Donaldson turn into a borderline MVP candidate? His BABIP is through the roof, but what should we realistically expect from him?

It's hard to peg down what kind of player Donaldson is. He doesn't have the prospect pedigree, but had ultimately hit at the levels he graduated from. His approach changed too; here's a story about him from last week:

As for his offensive consistency since he came back up last August - he hit .290 after his recall - Donaldson had an epiphany last summer in Sacramento. "I was trying to hit everything - fastballs inside, sliders away, and it wasn't working," he said. "I decided to cut the plate in half, and look either inside or outside. That gave me the ability to home in on the zone, and I think that's ultimately been the biggest part of the success I had last year and this."

Do I think he is an MVP candidate going forward? Probably not. As you alluded to, his BABIP is .370 and that's not really sustainable. Once he regresses, though, a 3-4 win guy who plays 3B at a high level is a hell of a player.

The A's bullpen has been simply dominant, but the rotation has been somewhat underwhelming. Do you see either aspect changing as the season goes on?

The bullpen has a good mix of the A-team and B-team. Sean Doolitte, Ryan Cook, and Grant Balfour are those guys, and pitch most of the high leverage situations. The B-team is Pat Neshek, Jesse Chavez, and Hideki Okajima, who can pitch in the lower leverage spots. Then there is Jerry Blevins, who can pitch multiple innings but has been very effective in high leverage situations as well. It worked last year, and so far they lead the AL in ERA. No reason to think they can't continue that going forward.

The starting pitching, however, is much more worrisome. It's no accident that the A's recent success over the last two weeks has had been correlated to Dan Straily finding his stride and Jarrod Parker looking the pitcher he was in the second half of last year, while Tom Milone, A.J. Griffin, and Bartolo Colon racked up back end innings. There is no timetable for Anderson's return. Should anyone else go down, the A's have a big problem. The best AAA option is 2011 first round pick Sonny Gray, who, while promising, still needs more AAA seasoning.

The rotation will have to continue to stabilize in order to be more than underwhelming. If they don't, though, expect more mediocre starting pitching from the A's. Indeed, they are the key to the A's success.

Is it weird now having the Astros in your division?

Weird? The A's are 9-0 against the Astros this year. This is the best thing to happen since Sean Doolittle realized he could throw 96 MPH. "When do we play the Astros again?" is a running joke on AN.

All kidding aside, if the A's somehow take the division again this year or find themselves in a dogfight for the wild card with the Angels, record against Houston will matter. It's quite possible the A's will make the playoffs on the backs of the Astros.