- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. Tim Hudson and Eric Chavez know why the Oakland Athletics, American League playoff representatives the last two seasons, entered play last night tied with the Texas Rangers for last place in the West. In fact, you get the feeling that the A's right-hander and third baseman have worked together to come up with an answer to such a question.
"Right now," Hudson said, "nothing's working for us."
Said Chavez (completely independent of Hudson): "We've got nothing working this year."
Indeed, the A's have been perhaps the most baffling team in baseball through the first 40 games of the 2002 season. The small-market franchise that has made a mockery of that designation (Oakland won 91 games in 2000 and 102 in 2001) has played this season like well, like you would expect a small-market franchise to play.
The A's limped into last night's series opener with the Baltimore Orioles as losers in 14 of their last 18 games, the owners of a disappointing 19-24 record that put them 10 games behind the division-leading Seattle Mariners in the AL West.
How bad have things become? Following his team's 11-0 loss Sunday capping a three-game sweep at the hands of the struggling Toronto Blue Jays Oakland manager Art Howe issued an ultimatum of sorts.
"Either get it going," Howe said, "or changes will be made."
Howe and general manager Billy Beane didn't give his players much chance to get it going. Before they played another game they made a bevy of roster changes that left some players' heads spinning yesterday afternoon.
Gone are a couple of key contributors from last year's wild-card squad (second baseman Frank Menechino and setup man Jeff Tam) and a key rookie from this year's team (first baseman Carlos Pena) who was an early season favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year honors. All three were optioned to Class AAA Sacramento, with a trio of relatively obscure players (Esteban German, Adam Piatt, Larry Sutton) called up in their stead.
What happened to the Bash Brothers?
"The morale around here got shaken up a little bit today," said Chavez, a 24-year-old who has become the team's most vocal player. "You can take that two ways. You can let it rattle you and wonder what's going to happen. Or you let it light a fire under you, force you to play hard and hopefully turn this thing around."
Easier said than done. The A's are floundering on a number of fronts at the moment. The once-potent lineup is hitting .237 with runners in scoring position, lowest in the AL. They're scoring an average of 3.1 runs a game this month, also lowest in the league. Left-hander Mark Mulder, last year's Cy Young runner-up, already spent a month on the disabled list with a strained forearm, and since getting activated has continued to struggle.
Then there's this staggering factoid: Left-hander Barry Zito, who started last night against Baltimore, is the only pitcher on the staff to win a game since May 2.
"I don't think it baffles everybody," Hudson said. "It's just something most teams go through every season. Most teams during the season will have one area that struggles and the rest of the team carries them. We've had everything struggle at one time."
Those with good memories will recall that last year's club opened the season 8-18 before rallying to win 94 of its final 136 games and give the almighty Mariners and their record 116 wins a decent scare.
And the holdovers from last year's squad are pointing to that experience as evidence that a dramatic turnaround is certainly possible.
"There's a lot of character on this team," Hudson said. "There are a lot of people who want to do well and want to get us back on the winning track. That's going to be a big reason why we're going to pull through."
There is, however, one major difference between last year's team and this year's team: a burly, MVP-quality first baseman named Jason Giambi who no longer wears green and gold nor Oakland's trademark white shoes but Yankee pinstripes.
"That's not the reason," Hudson said matter-of-factly. "We struggled the same way with him last year. It's a team deal. There's not one person that's going to bring us out of this slump. Everybody's going to have to do their part to help us pull out of it."
Maybe so, but the loss of someone who is guaranteed to give you 40 homers and 130 RBI not to mention a vital clubhouse presence does make a difference, and the loss of Giambi's bat has had a dramatic effect on the A's lineup.
Not to mention the morale inside what used to be baseball's most boisterous clubhouse.
"It's the major leagues," Chavez said. "And to come back and perform year in and year out, you've got to be at the top of your game. That's why what the Yankees have done is so spectacular. It's hard to win in this league year in and year out."

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