Things I will enjoy about the upcoming Athletics-Cardinals series, maybe in order

Here is a picture of some kind of bear.

1. Vin Mazzaro's name. Vin Mazzaro sounds like a guy who might have gotten nicknamed the Hoodooer of Hackensack by Damon Runyan and then pitched long relief for the Gashouse Gang. Lest I be judged for sticking too closely to the shallow end in this blog entry I'll say I also enjoy Vin Mazzaro in general—he seems perfectly fit for representing the kind of player the Athletics have turned out almost too excess in their post-Big Three exile from relevance. Vin Mazzaro is pretty good! He's not a guy who'll do any heavy lifting when it comes time to drag a team into the postseason, but he's average, and young, and he might someday be better than average and still pretty young. 

But it seems like these are the only players the As produce—not just produce, but produce and then trade for, as though Billy Beane's ultimate goal is to field five separate 80-win teams and pit them against one-another in the AL West West. Oakland is home to Vin Mazzaro, Dallas Braden, Coco Crisp, Gabe Gross, Ryan Sweeney, Rajai Davis, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Adam Rosales, Jack Cust, and now Conor Jackson. They're staffed almost entirely by players who might someday get 350 at-bats or 30 starts on a playoff team. Their best player is a first baseman who doesn't hit for any power. Segue:

2. Daric Barton! Finally! Daric Barton is the official danup One That Got Away—the first prospect I followed with relish up the ladder, the one whose 2004 season in the Midwest League, at the Baseball Age of 18, is still the gold standard when I watch a prospect exceed expectations. The one who was traded at the peak of my angry baseball blogger pique in a deal that I justifiably hated. 

And now, at 24, he's finally having a good season! This excites me—he's no longer a catcher, and he's no longer absurdly young, but this is the kind of season I always hoped he would have, though only in his down years. For a guy who seemed on the verge of permanent AAAA-dom after the Brett Wallace acquisition he might luck into a somebody's-gotta-do-it All Star selection. 

3. Jack Cust! Always! I've told the story of my love for Jack Cust, the official player of sabermetric ideas circa 2002, over and over, but while we're talking about great moments in recent minor league history it's worth mentioning Cust's 2007 stint with AAA Portland, which got him rescued from the trashheap in the first place. 

There are two longtime minor leaguer tropes that teams and fans and analysts use to dismiss performances from longtime minor leaguers—one of them is that as a player realizes a team has no plans for him he stops giving 110%, or even 100%, and has a down year after having dominated his leagues for years. Jack Cust had that year in 2004 and then 2005, after a brief and fruitful stint with the Orioles didn't lead to a sustained career in the bigs. Despite having a career OPS in the minors well north of .900 he hit just .235/.358/.433 in AAA Ottawa in 2004. After moving to the Athletics, the team seemingly most likely to recognize his gifts, in 2005, he had the same year over again, hitting .257/.402/.438. 

The other trope is that as a player spends too much time in AAA he learns how to beat his fellow minor leaguers and puts in a dominating performance that couldn't be repeated at a higher level, one that's an artifact of his inability to play at a major league level. In 2006 he floated into the Padres system, and had a season only Jack Cust could possibly have. Counting stats work best: in 138 games he had 129 hits, 143 walks, and 124 strikeouts. He hit 23 doubles, 30 home runs, legged out zero triples and stole zero bases. 

He hit the ball even better over a month in 2007 and the Athletics thought maybe they were wrong about this guy after all. Since then he's been an excellent hitter but also a player they'd just as soon not rely upon; he was non-tendered after a subpar 2009, resigned later in the offseason, began the year in AAA, and was called up when it was clear Eric Chavez would not hit, and that they were stuck, once again, with Jack Cust anchoring the lineup. 

4. The Middle Infield, which has to start clicking sooner or later, I mean doesn't it. It even features hitting Brendan Ryan! As I mentioned over here (company synergy! regional hubs are the third heat), Brendan Ryan's OPS is now higher than Skip Schumaker's. It's bad for the Cardinals, and especially for Skip Schumaker, that they met somewhere around .613, but the arbitrary endpoint for OPS-over-.800-Ryan can now be drawn back all the way to May 15, which is pretty cool. 

As for Schumaker, PrOPS is relatively high on him, as has been our own bgh, among others, but what's been so distressing about watching his continued offensive disappearance is that he's been nowhere for so long. Another arbitrary endpoint trick can be performed with Schumaker's gamelog; between today and May 21 his OPS has bounced between .609 and .654. Instead of peaks and valleys there's just... Kansas. He hasn't hit a home run in 163 at-bats, and he hasn't had his OPS above .700 in 182. 

Even Felipe Lopez has struggled in June, performing nearly as poorly as Schumaker and complicating an already-complicated playing time situation. In the middle infield, only Aaron Miles is a known quantity.

5. Jeff Suppan Watch: Day Two. Yes, I said enjoy. I don't think it's going to happen, and if he gives up four or five runs in the first inning his start—Sunday, VEB Day, so don't say Tony La Russa never scheduled anything for you—will be interminable. But I'd love nothing more than to be wrong, and for Jeff Suppan, whose fastball is basically Blake Hawksworth's changeup, and whose curveball, unfortunately, is about Blake Hawksworth's curveball, to mystify teams over the course of a month or two as the Cardinals have been mystified by his kind for years. It's a pretty devious plan, one whose earlier experiments, in the form of P.J. Walters, have been about as effective as those early planes with twenty wings on them, but the Cardinals would finally be able to turn the raw, punchless power of soft-tossing right-handers against the teams that have so often victimized them with it.

If Suppan has another Dave Duncan Project Success day—five innings, nine hits, three walks, no strikeouts, one run—I will love it, if only in hindsight. The decision's been made; all that's left is to hope that he gets hilariously lucky and turns into some other team's Bud Norris

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