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Inside Information: Q&A with Athletics Nation

Athleticsnation_medium The Orioles begin a four game set with the Oakland Athletics tonight with David Hernandez taking the ball for the O's, opposed by Ben Sheets. The A's have fallen on some hard times over the past three years, posting losing records from 2007-2009 and finishing in 3rd or 4th place (silly AL West with only four teams). That hasn't stopped them from dominating the Orioles, however, as they've gone 14-5 against our birds in that same time period. In fact, when the Orioles beat the A's on August 11, 2009, it was their first win against them since July 22, 2007. Ouch.

The A's are currently 6-4 and in first place in the AL West. Jealous!

67MARQUEZ at Athletics Nation took some time to answer just a few questions for us on the 2010 A's and give us an idea of what the O's are up against this weekend. I also gave him some O's info if you want to take a field trip and have a gander. 

1. I'll be honest, I don't know all that much about the A's. It's hard to keep track of teams on the west coast, unfortunately. Can you tell us a little about the A's starting rotation and the general feelings of A's fans about them?

As is often the case with A's, the success of the staff depends on its health. Ben Sheets surely needs no introduction. He gets the ball in the series opener after not throwing a single meaningful pitch last season. Ditto for two-time All-Star Justin Duchscherer, who you'll see on Saturday. Duke looked like his former self against Seattle on Monday, delivering 7-1/3 innings of scoreless ball in his first win since July 2008. He is pretty much revered by most A's fans.

Dallas Braden is your typical off-the-wall southpaw. Aside from being an excellent interview, Braden- who takes on the mound Friday night- has been particularly awesome against the O's: 4-1 with a 1.32 ERA lifetime.

Gio Gonzalez will miss out on the Baltimore series. Beating out Trevor Cahill for the fifth spot this Spring, we saw "Good Gio" in his first start of the season. Talent isn't so much an issue with this guy; it's mostly a matter of keeping his emotions in check.

Seems the deeper I go into the rotation, the younger these guys get. Brett Anderson, by most accounts, has a chance to be really special. Though he labored some in his last start, he may have already developed that critical ability to keep his team in games even without his best stuff, as illustrated by his line on Tuesday: 6 IP 0 ER 6K. He has yet to allow a run in 12 innings this year, a trend we hope continues on Sunday.

All in all, we feel pretty good when any of these starters take the mound, all the while holding our collective breath that none of them break.

2. I'm looking at the A's depth chart and find myself wondering, who is going to hit for this team? Is there anyone on the team capable of hitting for power? Will the pitching be good enough to compensate for the hitting?

Can we just talk about the pitching? No? Fine. Yeah, there aren't many guys up and down our lineup who are going to strike fear into an opposing pitcher, and with Jack Cust DFA'd on the eve of the season opener, the A's are going to be more scratch-and-claw than anything else.

You will see an aggressive style on the bases, some of which has been credited to a guy named Rickey hanging around these parts. The key is, you know, actually getting to first base. But enough about my love life. Seriously though, the A's will battle until the last out most nights. Small sample sizes be damned, Oakland had two walk-off wins in their first series against Seattle, and rallied late to beat Anaheim on Sunday to win that set, too.

I honestly think that IF the staff can stay relatively healthy, the A's are going to be compete in a wide open West. Don't be fooled by the outpouring of offense this first week (a league-leading 43 runs before being blanked on Tuesday), there will be plenty of close, low-scoring games in Oakland in 2010.

3. Are the A's expected to compete this year? I've seen predictions all across the board. The Five Questions series at The Hardball Times says that while it's close, the A's are probably the worst team in the AL West this year. Meanwhile Baseball Prospectus is predicting them to finish first in the division with 84 wins. What do A's fans believe?

This fan believes the A's will win every year, so let's toss my vote out. But Athletics Nation is all over the place. Based on this recent poll, (22) fans think Oakland will win the West, (31) others say the A's will play over .500 ball but no title, and (18) doom-and-gloomers predict a fourth straight losing season. This does not include Cindi's vote. Don't ask.