Talented southpaws have A’s looking across bay

PHOENIX – The blond whiskers on Dallas Braden’s(notes) chin are coming in good and strong now, certainly well enough to start thinking really big.

You know, maybe darken it up, initiate a knockoff fad, lob a shot from across the bay against Brian Wilson(notes) and the team the Oakland Athletics want to be like as they grow up.

“Absolutely not,” Braden said, stroking his face beneath a wry smile. “Absolutely not. No chance. I’ll leave that to the homeless man. I’m not a Just For Men guy.”

Dallas Braden sets himself apart as the loudest of the three lefties.
(Norm Hall/Getty)

Braden and Wilson are pals, of course, traveling companions and fellows of like spirit.

But in baseball their paths deviate, the way things sometimes go, so the San Francisco Giants will spend 2011 on a victory lap while Braden’s A’s seek something like maturation and relevance.

As Brett Anderson(notes), another of the A’s three starting left-handers (Trevor Cahill(notes), the only right-hander of the first four starters, is considered for his flightiness an honorary lefty), observed, “You see that team do what it did last year and you think, ‘Why can’t that be us?’ ”

They are similarly challenged on offense. And they lead with pitching staffs that share the qualities of good arms, uncommon poise and resolute precociousness, along with a special kind of light-hearted funk that plays well in oddball fraternities and baseball clubhouses.

It’s not exactly Fear the Weird, as Braden, Anderson, Cahill and Gio Gonzalez(notes) are less bizarre than they are just this side of lovably imbalanced, with maybe a summer place just the other side of lovably imbalanced.

And while Billy Beane threw them some run support in an offseason in which the A’s picked up David DeJesus(notes), Hideki Matsui(notes) and Josh Willingham(notes), the AL West still will turn on pitching, and the A’s will turn on their first four starters, only one of which (Braden) has cleared his 26th birthday.

That seems to be good by them. And they seem to enjoy themselves, and enjoy each other, a bond formed through shared experiences and laughs, along with a suspicion the other three probably have far greater emotional issues.

“It’s that whole goofy lefty thing,” Cahill said. “They’re goofy, but in completely different ways.”

OK, shoot.

“Gio,” he said, “is always happy. Bubbly, I guess.”

“Brett,” he said, “is kind of quiet and bitter and sarcastic.”

“And Dallas,” he added, “is loud, more of a typical lefty.”

Anderson nodded slowly over Cahill’s assessment.

“I give off that vibe, I like people to think that,” he said. “Yeah, I got some issues, too, some OCD going on.”

Braden chuckled at the notion Cahill would be cast as the unattached arbiter of leftiness, arguing, “He’s the most left-handed out of all of us.”

Like that’s a bad thing.

Gio Gonzalez is characterized as being the happiest of the trio of southpaws.
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

“Eh,” Cahill said, “I’m used to it.”

Meaning, the burden of right-handedness in a lefty world.

“Brett is silent but deadly,” Braden went on. “He doesn’t say much and when he does, he’s like that movie, ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ a little dark and onerous, people dying, killing themselves, and there’s still humor in it.”

Gonzalez is cheeriest, and why wouldn’t he be, as Braden pointed out, “When you’ve got the 95 mile-an-hour heater and then the hammer curve, like there’s a weight on the bottom of it.”

Really, it’s lovely they get along – Braden, over a short period this spring, went to lunch and the mall with Anderson, to dinner with Gonzalez, and had Cahill over to his house – and have come into big-league success at about the same time in their careers and lives, but what plays is what they do when standing by themselves, on a mound.

Anderson, 23, has the big fastball and disappearing slider and is recovered from last season’s elbow problems, as his 2.09 ERA over the final month of last season would suggest. Braden, of course, threw the Mother’s Day perfect game, but more than that has great feel and intellect behind stuff that otherwise lags behind the other three. Gonzalez, 25, and perhaps the least celebrated of the four, won 15 games last season and could be manager Bob Geren’s Opening Day starter. And Cahill was 18-8 and ninth in the AL Cy Young voting behind a power sinker that turns games into infield fungo drills.

Brandon McCarthy(notes), apparently and so far healthy again, probably gets the fifth spot.

Brett Anderson is described by teammates as kind of quiet, bitter and sarcastic.
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

One through four, they’re at least as talented as anyone in the AL West, and match up with some of the brighter young rotations in the game, including that of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Now they’ve gone a season together, Cahill having arrived for good after a month in the minor leagues, three of them – Cahill, Braden and Gonzalez – having reached 30 starts in a season for the first time in ’10, Anderson having made 30 in ’09.

“I don’t know what it would be like,” Cahill said, “if any of us got traded to where there were only veteran starters.”

And now there is something expected of them, of the A’s, who’ve been out of the playoffs for four years, and of their headstrong starters.

Perhaps the Giants are the template, but, just as likely, they’ll find their own way, steal a little something here and there, seek comfort in their common paths, maintain the hues of facial hair as granted by nature, and maybe laugh at the occasional patches of darkness.

“It’s awesome,” Anderson said. “You’re never alone. You’re with friends.”

Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Mar 20, 2011