Mariners series No. 1: Oakland A’s, three games in Oakland

The Butler Bulldogs are in position, with a little luck, to take down the mighty Duke Blue Devils. They’d be perhaps the most Cinderella-esque champion since the Jim Valvano led, eighth-seeded, 1983 N.C. State Wildcats won it all.

They’ll have essentially home court advantage, as the college and championship game are both in Indiana.

All this after Bob Huggins got up close and personal with Da’Sean Butler on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium. I’ve heard analysts say that Huggins’ consolation will bring recruits to West Virginia.

Maybe if the Mountaineers hired a Designated Injury Consoler—Kim Kardashian is available.

And Tiger Woods is playing the Masters, which we have known for a while now. He also cheated on his wife, and people care about it. Apparently.

None of that should distract one however, from one of the most important days of the year. The hallowed, better-than-Christmas event known as baseball’s opening day.

The baseball season is underway, and the Mariners open the season against the division rival Oakland A’s. And for the second season, the matchup is an excuse to ooze praise on top of both teams’ respective front offices.

Oakland’s front office, championed by Billy Beane, became famous after Moneyball was released. The book detailed the Athletics unconventional method of player evaluation, relying heavily on stats as opposed to scouting reports which detailed mostly athletic ability.

While the 2002 draft, detailed in the book, has been fairly critically-panned, its delivery to mainstream has undoubtedly had an unfair influence on the perception of what was really a fairly solid draft.

Of their first seven picks, each of which was in the first round or first compensatory round, three players became solid big leaguers: Joe Blanton, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teahan.

If you’ve read the book, the A’s philosophy was to draft experienced college players with a short path to the bigs, which can easily influence playing time, but none of the aforementioned three are still Athletics, but remain regular contributors.

Joe Blanton has thrown over 1000 innings in the majors, and both Teahan and Swisher have over 2500 plate appearances in their careers.

Only Prince Fielder, Jeff Francouer, and Khalil Greene have more plate appearances than Swisher and Teahan, and the latter two have had long periods of struggle in the majors.

Only Zach Greinke (drafted sixth overall, before the A’s had a single pick) has more innings than Blanton in that year’s first round.

With all those names absent from the A’s present roster (Teahan was never on an A’s roster), the team has been re-shaped from the walk-machine, station-to-station teams of the past, which boasted good, young pitching.

Now the team will rely on defense, speed on the basebaths, contact, and veteran pitching to win ballgames.

If the Mariners achieved the same level of success in the draft, consistently, they’d be thrilled.

The A’s offseason was headed up by Ben Sheets, who signed late, after missing all of 2009 after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery. Ben will be fairly proof positive as to the rehab time of elbow surgery, as it seems like pitchers really struggle after one year removed, but return to form in the second year.

Sheets had surgery about 14 months ago.

Sheets will match up against Felix Hernandez tonight in a battle of Reconstructed Elbow vs. “That guy that makes us cross our fingers, hoping he didn’t blow up his elbow, every time he makes a sour face. “

The A’s flirted with Adrian Beltre in the offseason, but ended up with a haul that included Coco Crisp, Gabe Gross, and the returns of Justin Duchscherer and Jack Cust, all (including Sheets) signed to one year contracts.

Cust has since been waived.

The A’s also traded for Jake Fox and Michael Taylor in the offseason, neither has defensive position they excel at, but both hit pretty well. Taylor will start the year in the minors.

With Crisp on the disabled list, the Mariners will face a depleted A’s outfield, both on offense and defense.