Straight A's

Over the past several years, the Oakland A's organization has been among the lead organizations in combined wins. With the big league club clinging to its slim AL West division lead, the A's currently boast four teams in first place in their divisions. As the minor league season winds to a close, we'll take a look at the three A's affiliates currently perched at the top of their respective divisions… (stats as of 8/23/04)

AAA Sacramento River Cats

Record: 74 56 .569; 8.5 game lead over Tucson Sidewinders in the PCL South Division

Notes: At one time, the River Cats had the best record in all of baseball. They have struggled a bit in the second half with injuries and player movement. However, the River Cats still have the most wins in the PCL.

Strengths:
Offense. The A's AAA affiliate has scored consistently this season. The River Cats have piled on 753 runs in only 130 games this season, a nearly 5.8 runs per game average. Sacramento boasts seven players with OBP of .370 or higher, including three (Dan Johnson, Mike Rose and Nick Swisher) with OBP higher then .395. Swisher (26), Johnson (25), and Graham Koonce (22) have all topped 20 homeruns and outfielder Matt Watson (18) is closing in on the 20 mark fast. Watson, Johnson, Rose, Mike Edwards and Esteban German have all hit for .290 BA or higher and German, Edwards and Freddie Bynum have combined for 41 steals while only being caught five times.

Bullpen. The River Cats' bullpen has been so strong this season they have seen a number of those relievers be promoted to Oakland. Lefty Ron Flores made the AAA All-Star team, posting a 3.83 ERA and 52 Ks in 49.1 innings. Chris Mabeus was promoted early in the season from AA Midland and took over as the River Cats' set-up man/closer when Justin Lehr was promoted to Oakland. Mabeus has handled the late-inning role well, posting a 3.09 ERA and 48 Ks in 43.2 innings. The aforementioned Lehr was a solid stopper for Sacramento before his promotion to the Green and Gold. He recently returned to Sacramento and should boost the ‘Cats bullpen until September call-ups. Newcomer Jairo Garcia was very impressive in his first stint in Sacramento, not allowing a run before being promoted to Oakland. After a rough time in the big leagues, Garcia was sent back to Sacramento for fine-tuning. The flamethrower will give the River Cats a tough back-end of the bullpen until he is recalled to Oakland in September.

Weakness:
Starting Pitching. The River Cats' starting pitching – a major strength in past seasons – has had a rough year, especially since the All-Star Break. Last season, the River Cats boasted a starting rotation that featured 2004 major leaguers Justin Duchscherer, Rich Harden and Mike Wood. This season, Wood was again one of the River Cats' most solid starters, but he was dealt in June to Kansas City and the River Cats have struggled to fill his slot in the rotation. Joe Blanton assumed Rich Harden's role as the phenom of the group. Unfortunately, Blanton has struggled at times this season, posting an ERA of 4.17. He does have an impressive K:BB ratio of 123/33 and has shown other signs of pitching better then his ERA would indicate. Lefty John Rheinecker has impressed at times and leads the staff with a 4.11 ERA. However, he has been touched for 17 HRs and has hit 12 batters. Former phenom Mario Ramos has failed to regain his form as a top minor league pitcher.

Playoff Prognostics: With an 8.5 game lead, the River Cats should glide into the playoffs with a good chance to repeat as champions.

A Modesto A's

Record; 37-19 .661 in first place in the North Division of the California League by 3.5 games.

Notes: The Lil' A's were the first half North Division Champions, as well. Their overall record stands at an astounding 81-45.

Strength:
Offense. The Modesto A's, like their AAA brethren, pounded the ball for much of the season. They have scored 782 runs in 126 games for a 6.2 runs per game average. Modesto features a balanced offense with six different players scoring 60 or more runs so far this season. This balance has allowed the A's to withstand the losses of offensive stars Andre Ethier (injury) and Brant Colamarino, Nelson Cruz and Omar Quintanilla (promotion) to continue to score runs in high numbers. Former first round pick Brian Stavisky has shined with a .306/.405/.544 line, and he has chipped in 17 homeruns. Former Blue Jays' farmhand Jason Perry shook off a demotion from AA Midland to destroy the California League. In 69 Cal League games, Perry has hit 20 homeruns and driven in 70 runs while posting a .338/.405/.699 line.

Weakness:
Pitching. The Modesto A's have managed to win a lot of games despite not having a dominant pitching staff. They have not had a dominant starter all season. Brad Ziegler (7-2, 3.65 ERA) and Matt Lynch (12-3, 4.03 ERA) have pitched decently and Matt Sauer has 10 wins, but Brad Sullivan has struggled with inconsistency (4.80 ERA). The bullpen has been decent, with Jeff Coleman serving as the primary closer (picking up 19 saves while posting a 2.72 ERA) and Chris Shank and Elvis Avendano doing a good job eating up the middle and late innings. The A's have cycled a number of other pitchers into the other slots of the rotation and bullpen, with varying degrees of success throughout the season.

Playoff Prognostics: Their pitching might be suspect, but the Modesto A's have dominated the California League all season. Despite losing a number of stars to promotion and injury, the Lil' A's have a good chance to bring home a championship to Modesto in what is likely their last season in the city they have called home for 30 years.

A Kane County Cougars

Record: 34 23 .596 in first place in the Western Division by 4.0 games.

Notes: Like Modesto, the Cougars also won the first-half championship. Their overall record stands at 77-49.

Strength:
Pitching. Unlike the A's other A affiliate, Kane County has had a loaded pitching staff all season. Led by Steve Bondurant (who was recently promoted to Midland after posting a 14-5 record with a 2.08 ERA and a fantastic 132:27 K:BB ratio) and Brad Knox (13-4 with a 2.26 ERA with a 164:22 K:BB ratio), the Cougars' pitching staff dominated their Midwest League opponents. Trent Peterson (7-4, 3.48 ERA) and recently promoted Dallas Braden (1-0 in three starts with a 2.77 ERA) have also pitched well. For much of the season, the Cougars' bullpen was anchored by Jairo Garcia, who posted a nearly flawless 0.30 ERA with 16 saves and 49 Ks in 30 innings. Dan Fyvie (4-1, 2.88 ERA in 53 appearances), Brigmer Leon (3-2, 3.14 ERA in 41 appearances) and J.R. Pickens (6-2, 3.07 in 48 appearances) have also performed well out of the bullpen. The pitching staff as a whole posted a ridiculous 1087:298 K:BB ratio.

Weakness:
Offense. The Cougars have scored 664 runs in 126 games for a 5.2 runs per game average. For the most part, the Cougars do not feature any great offensive prospects. 2004 first round pick Danny Putnam has played with the Cougars for about two months and has done decently in his first pro season. Brian Snyder (.303/.420/.463) and Vasili Spanos (.303/.404/.493) have hit well, while Eddie Kim (.249/.325/.388) and Chris Tritle (.189/.261/.335) have been disappointments. The Cougars haven't hit for much power, as Luke Appert leads the team with 13 homeruns.

Playoff Prognostics: If pitching wins championships, then the Cougars should be in great shape. It would be easier for them if they could get Bondurant and Garcia (not to mention brief member Huston Street) back for the playoffs, but even without those studs, they still have the pitching to win the championships.

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