New Look A's
Judging by their transactions, it would be hard to tell that Oakland actually has the better record at the All-Star break.
The A's begin their season's second half on Friday without scheduled starter Joe Blanton, who was traded away the day before their final regular-season series at Yankee Stadium.
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After trading pitchers Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Chicago Cubs on July 8, Oakland dealt Blanton to Philadelphia on Thursday, receiving three minor leaguers in return.
Combined with Dan Haren (traded to Arizona before the season), the four departed pitchers made 106 starts for the A's in 2007 - more than 65 percent of Oakland's games.
"We've made no secret that we're trying to build a longtime winner," Oakland assistant general manager David Forst said. "We're trying to build something that's going to last. We want to be the ones who are being chased."
Despite the roster turnover, the A's (51-44) trail AL West-leading Los Angeles by only six games, and are four games behind Tampa Bay for the wild card. They are last in the AL with a .249 batting average, but have stayed afloat thanks to a major league-leading 3.39 team ERA.
"'08 still has a chance to be a good year," Forst said. "Beyond that is what we've done all this for."
Oakland is one game ahead of the Yankees (50-45), who have the majors' biggest payroll at more than $209 million.
New York was 43-43 at the All-Star break in 2007, then went 51-25 to win the AL wild card and advance to its 13th consecutive postseason.
The current Yankees lost three of their last four games before the break, including a 4-1 defeat at Toronto Sunday. They trail both Boston and Tampa Bay in the AL East.
"If we want to make the playoffs, we've got to be better," left-hander Andy Pettitte said. "We stink right now, for the most part."
New York added veteran slugger Richie Sexson on Thursday, signing the first baseman who was cut by Seattle last week. Sexson hit only .218 with 76 strikeouts for the Mariners, but against left-handed pitching posted a .344 average with seven home runs in 71 at-bats.
With an injury-depleted pitching staff, New York will likely need Mike Mussina (11-6, 3.61 ERA) to continue his strong season. Mussina has won 10 of his last 13 decisions, compiling a 3.10 ERA over that span.
The 18-year veteran right-hander is 17-10 with a 3.82 ERA in 34 career starts against Oakland.
With Blanton en route to Philadelphia, the A's will counter with Greg Smith (5-7, 3.43), who has never faced the Yankees. The rookie left-hander pitched six shutout innings last Thursday against Seattle, but Oakland did not score a run while he was in the game for the seventh time in his 18 starts. The A's eventually won the game 3-2 in 11 innings.
Smith, acquired from Arizona in the Haren trade, has received an AL-low 3.1 runs of support per nine innings.
The A's lost two of three to the Yankees in Oakland last month, but they've won six of their last seven games at Yankee Stadium dating back to 2006.
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