The Athletics have at least one thing to look forward to as they wind down a disappointing season, and it's not the September call-ups.
Moneyball will make its world premiere on September 19 in Oakland and then open in theaters across the country four days later. The adaptation of Michael Lewis' bestselling book that chronicled how Athletics general manager Billy Beane exploited market inefficiencies to produce teams that went to the postseason four years in a row from 2000-03 and again in 2006 despite playing in a small market will be on the big screen, and many of his current players want to see it.
"Oh, I'll definitely watch it," said right-hander Rich Harden, who joined the organization in 2001 as a draft-and-follow after being the Athletics' 17th-round pick in 2000. "Actually, it looks like it'll be pretty good. They put together a pretty good cast for it. When I first heard it was being made into a movie, I wasn't exactly sure how they were going to do it. It didn't seem like the kind of book you'd turn into a movie. The trailer looks interesting, though. I came in the year after the draft class that was written about so much in the book, so I have a natural curiosity about it."
Harden is also curious to see how people he knows will be portrayed in the movies.
"It's going to seem a little odd seeing Billy played by Brad Pitt," Harden said with a smile. "A lot of characters in the movies will be guys I played for or with. It's going to be really interesting to sit and watch a movie about those people."
Shortstop Cliff Pennington also plans to watch Moneyball.
"I don't know if I'll go to the theater to see it, but I am going to try to get a copy," Pennington said. "As a player, I think it could give a whole new perspective about how Billy and the front office think and how they operate. That's what I'm most interested in watching."
If Hollywood were to produce a movie on the 2011 Athletics, though, a working title might be Nothing Much Has Happened, and it would probably be a flop. A season that started with hopes of winning their first American League West title in five years instead has turned into one in which the Athletics are 60-76 and in third place, 16 1/2 games behind the first-place Rangers.
"Unfortunately, we got off to a slow start and never were able to really get untracked," Pennington said. "I know we're better than our record, but it just hasn't worked out the way we hoped."
The slow start cost manager Bob Geren his job, as he was fired on June 9 with the Athletics in the midst of what turned out to be a 10-game losing streak that dropped them to 27-37. Bob Melvin took over but was unable to get the Athletics into contention (they have gone 33-38 since the switch). Yet Melvin, who previously managed the Mariners and Diamondbacks, does not see this as a lost season.
"It was a little bit different scenario than I've been used to being in, coming in during the season and not really knowing the personnel all that well," Melvin said. "I had to do a lot of learning on the fly, but the players have played hard and they made it a lot easier on me to learn the ins and outs of our club on an everyday basis. Usually, you have a spring training to get to know everyone, but it is what is as far as this season goes, and I've enjoyed it. We have a good group of guys who want to get better."
The reserved Melvin isn't one to politic, but he admits he would like to have the job on a permanent basis. It appears all but a formality that Melvin will be the manager in 2011.
The Athletics have been able the weather the loss of left-handers Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden to Tommy John surgery and disabled list stints by Harden, Brandon McCarthy, and Tyson Ross to stand seventh in the AL and 15th in the major leagues with an average of 4.24 runs allowed a game. However, run scoring has been a problem for the Athletics, as their average of 3.95 a game ranks 12th in the league and 21st in the majors even after an offseason in which they added left fielder Josh Willingham, right fielder David DeJesus, and designated hitter Hideki Matsui in an effort to bolster the lineup.
The Athletics have raised their scoring average from 3.42 to 5.14 since the All-Star break. However, their runs allowed average has also gone up from 3.68 to 5.40 in the second half.
"We've been striving to get the pitching and hitting going together, and we just haven't been able to do it," Melvin said. "If we can do that, we have the pieces here to win our fair share of ballgames."
The Athletics still have the nucleus of a potentially outstanding young rotation in left-hander Gio Gonzalez, right-hander Trevor Cahill, and Anderson, while Andrew Bailey is a reliable closer. First baseman Brandon Allen (.330 TAv) and third baseman Scott Sizemore (.295), acquired in in-season trades, have bolstered the lineup, and rookie second baseman Jemile Weeks (.284) has a chance to be a catalyst at the top of the lineup. However, the starting outfield consists of three players eligible for free agency in Willingham, DeJesus, and center fielder Coco Crisp, and Matsui is signed to a one-year deal that expires at season's end.
"You've got to be optimistic, because there is nowhere else to be," Pennington said. "We've got some good guys, and we're going to keep grinding away."
The Athletics will likely work prospects Chris Carter and Michael Taylor into the lineup in the finals weeks of the season at the corner outfield spots or DH. However, the farm system is fallow beyond those two, and Beane hasn't been able to work his magic with a small payroll in recent years.
Thus, if the Athletics were to get back to the postseason anytime in the near future, it would likely inspire another movie, Moneyball II.
Cardinals right fielder Lance Berkman: "Even though he's tailed off in the second half, he's exceeded my expectations. I really thought he was at the end of the line last year, and I know a lot of other people thought the same way, too. He still has something left, and I'll be curious what kind of contract he gets as a free agent this winter."
Diamondbacks right-hander Josh Collmenter: "If you only watched him throw in the bullpen, you'd dismiss him as not being a big-league pitcher. He's one of those guys who just knows how to pitch, if you'll pardon the cliché. He's smart and that tomahawk-chop throwing motion, where he comes straight over the top, throws a lot of hitters off."
Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay: "He looks like he's really in top form now. I know the Phillies have their 'Four Aces' rotation, but he's the bell cow, and he looks ready to lead them on a deep run in October."
Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki: "He's in great shape, but time is catching up to him a little bit. His bat has slowed just a little, and he's lost about a half-step going down the line. He's still a great hitter but he's on the decline."
Red Sox right-hander Tim Wakefield: "He's had a great career, and he's certainly been a study in perseverance, but the Red Sox are going to have to make a tough decision on him in the offseason. He is not a consistently effective starting pitcher anymore, and they might have to cut ties, which could be a really sticky situation with someone who has meant so much to that franchise and community."