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A's hope to use 2011 as a building block

A's hope to use 2011 as a building block

A's hope to use 2011 as a building block
OAKLAND -- Unlike the 2010 installment of the A's, the 2011 version was expected to seriously contend, with many around the baseball community linking them to a division crown before the start of the season.

Not only did the A's not contend, but they fared worse than their .500 campaign the year before, finishing well under that mark because of a myriad of issues that were on display in front of sparse crowds at the Oakland Coliseum.

The first-half loss of starters Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross -- all in the span of a month, no less -- obviously proved disheartening for a club that heavily relied on pitching. But in return, the A's found a handful of healthy hurlers, including Guillermo Moscoso, who offered almost equally impressive performances, leaving the injury bug as one less excuse for defeats.

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At the top of that list, rather, was an inability to hit. The A's received solid second-half performances at the plate from the likes of Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham, Kurt Suzuki and Cliff Pennington, but their first-half flop proved too much to overcome, even with newly installed manager Bob Melvin -- who took over for the dismissed Bob Geren in June -- at the helm the rest of the way. (More | )

Melvin's presence wasn't the only prominent personnel change. Oakland's infield watched the departure of Mark Ellis via trade in June, along with the demotions of Daric Barton and Kevin Kouzmanoff, leaving Cliff Pennington as the lone Opening Day infield starter by the time July rolled around. In return, the A's welcomed in third baseman Scott Sizemore from Detroit, top prospect Jemile Weeks from Triple-A to play second and, ultimately, first baseman Brandon Allen, acquired in the Brad Ziegler trade from Arizona. (More)

Together, the new core experienced defensive frustrations and the expected growing pains but also delivered some offensive hope -- from Weeks a dose of pop and speed, and from Allen signs of much-need power, with Sizemore contributing a few clutch hits.

Nevertheless, plenty of questions still prevail for this team, one which anticipates improvements to the lineup and increasing optimism in its ability to contend the way it was expected to this year. Both, though, could come at a slower pace than liked, given the A's stadium situation and unmoved payroll, not to mention unanswered questions surrounding prospects Chris Carter and Michael Taylor.

For the time being, what follows is a quick look back at a 2011 season the A's hope to use as a building block.

Record: 74-88, third place in American League West

Defining moment: The A's witnessed their first in-season managerial change in 15 years, when Geren -- under pointed criticism following public comments made by current and former players regarding his managing style -- was dismissed of his duties on June 9. It was a firm move by general manager Billy Beane, relaying a message that complacency wasn't to be had by a team he built to contend in the playoffs, that change was necessary even if it came at the cost of Geren, a longtime friend. Melvin was named interim manager and quickly injected a newfound energy and confidence into the club, which put together an improved second half, notably in the offensive department. The transition proved seamless, and Melvin was awarded for his efforts on Sept. 21 by way of a three-year contract that will keep him at the helm through 2014. (More | )

What went right: Melvin calmed the storm created by a nine-game losing streak, which ended one day after his arrival. The A's won seven of their first 10 games played under their new manager, including six in a row. Melvin wasn't the only thing that went right. Matsui assumed an everyday role and, in doing so, showcased his veteran offensive abilities and made nearly everyone around him better. Included in that group was Willingham, who rebounded from a slow start to put together perhaps his most productive year in the Majors, collecting career highs in home runs and RBIs in an otherwise lackluster lineup.

What went wrong: Injuries were again a factor, with lefties Braden and Anderson both undergoing season-ending surgeries, but the A's weren't ready to use them as an excuse. The underlying issues stemmed from consistent inconsistencies, as the club struggled greatly on the offensive side. David DeJesus endured a disappointing season at the plate, as did Suzuki for much of the year. And while those pains were eased slightly in the second half, it came at a time when the pitching staff endured multiple woes -- notably when the once-dominant Trevor Cahill and 2011 All-Star Gio Gonzalez took to the mound. Their numbers weren't nearly as good after the break, contributing to the team's inability to ever put together a string of good play. Not helping at any time in the cause was the A's defense, which racked up the most errors in the American League. (More | )

Biggest surprise: Right-handers McCarthy and Moscoso, both essentially stuck in Texas' Minor League system last year, gave the A's a large handful of tremendous pitching performances and were ultimately the most dependable arms in the club's rotation in the second half. The pair entered the season free of expectations and exited as definite candidates to fill the 2012 rotation. Not to be forgotten among this group, though, is Weeks, whose midseason takeover of second base for an injured Ellis -- later dealt to the Rockies -- turned into one of the year's most prominent moments. The rookie immediately added a spark at the top of the lineup and on the bases, all the while improving with his glove by year's end, as well, giving A's fans something to be excited about for years to come. (More | )

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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