Inbox: Is Oakland a legitimate playoff contender?

Inbox: Is Oakland a legitimate playoff contender?

Inbox: Is Oakland a legitimate playoff contender?
Do you see the A's as legitimate playoff contenders? I don't think they'll finish the season too far above the .500 mark, and I'm not sure that'll cut it for a playoff spot. There are too many other well-rounded clubs out there, while I don't see the A's offense keeping up with the pitching.
-- Travis C., San Jose, Calif.

This same A's club is not a contender last year. But they are this year, as the result of an expanded playoff field. No way do they stay in contention for a title in a division that also includes Texas and Los Angeles, but with two Wild Card slots up for grabs, playoff dreams suddenly become a reality for gritty teams like the A's, who are clicking on all cylinders right now.

Is the red-hot offense a tease? Perhaps, what with its back-to-back four-homer display, but I think it still has the ability on any given night to offer the right amount of support to a consistently superb pitching staff that's statistically the best in the league.

Better offensive teams like the Rangers and Yankees, who enter town this week, will lend the A's the right kind of challenge. How they fare in that span should reflect their ability to hang with the best teams over the final months of play. Of the 73 games remaining, 23 are to be played against Texas, New York and Los Angeles.

What's your take on the Justin Upton rumors? I'd love to see him in Oakland, but what would it take to get him?
-- Mark C., Sonoma, Calif.

Something tells me the D-backs wouldn't be shy in asking for Jarrod Parker back, a request the A's would never honor, for obvious reasons. I'd think infield help would be next on the D-backs' list, but the A's aren't exactly overflowing in that department. In reality, it's an area where they, too, could use an offensive upgrade, given Cliff Pennington's decline at the plate and Brandon Inge's inconsistency. So do they have anything to offer Arizona? Not really. But it doesn't even matter, because I don't believe either party sees a deal involving Upton as a realistic one to begin with.

Though an outfield of Upton, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick, from left to right, sounds intriguing, the A's have plenty of outfielders at the moment, and all are making contributions to the club's recent surge. Even if Coco Crisp were to be dealt by the Trade Deadline or miss an extended period of time because of his sore left shoulder, the club likes what they have in outfielders Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes, along with Brandon Moss -- all of whom have more home runs than Upton (7) this year.

There's simply no room for the two-time All-Star, who probably wouldn't mind a reunion with former manager Bob Melvin, so I wouldn't get too excited about the idea, particularly when Upton's currently putting up numbers of a bench player.

I recently saw Dan Straily pitch in Sacramento. Great arm and would fit in very nicely with the A's young pitching staff, I believe. What is their plan for him? When do we see him in Oakland?
-- Greg S., Fair Oaks, Calif.

Soon, but not too soon.

Though Straily's quick climb from Double-A to Triple-A, along with the strikeouts -- 154 in 118 1/3 innings -- he's racked up along the way this year are wildly impressive, I don't see the A's rushing him to the big leagues, unless necessary in the event of the loss of a starting pitcher to a significant injury or trade, like Bartolo Colon -- both of which are possible.

Straily is arguably pitching better than anyone else in baseball, but continued experience will only make him that much more privy to sustainable success in the Majors once there. And I'd think, once there, the A's would like to keep him there, rather than have him play the back-and-forth game that Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey are accustomed to.

At the same time, the A's must be encouraged by A.J. Griffin's quick success in the Majors, so when the time comes for a pitching slot to be filled, I don't think they'll be scared to try out another young arm in an already baby-faced rotation.

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I have to say I didn't think Chris Carter would ever make it in the big leagues, but he's starting to prove me wrong. Is he the real deal? Do the A's actually see him as a long-term fit? I'm not sold just yet, but I'm glad to see him doing well.
-- Brent F., Pleasant Hill, Calif.

I don't know how many more home runs Carter has to hit to convince everyone he's in the Majors to stay, but five in nine games is a pretty good start. And a good start, it seems, is all he was missing in his previous four stints, which led to minimal confidence. Carter is the type of player who thrives on it, and his booming success with the A's is only lending him more by the day. He's swinging at fewer pitches and absolutely smothering the ones he does swing at, making his at-bats much more enjoyable to watch. This is what the A's have been waiting for, so they're surely going to keep him in the lineup so long as he continues showcasing consistency. At this point, though we're still assessing his performance on a small sample size, I don't see him going back to Triple-A this year.

Will the A's ever move Grant Green back to shortstop? Why are we settling on Cliff Pennington and Brandon Hicks? They're both bench players, at best. I like that this team gives young players a shot, so what's the holdup?
-- Andy M., Reno, Nev.

I think it's very possible the A's are now regretting their decision to move Green to the outfield last year, though, to their credit, they had no idea at the time they'd be welcoming in Yoenis Cespedes just months later, thus ridding Green and even Michael Choice of center fielder of the future status. Now that Green is no longer locked into center field, the organization is trying his hand at multiple positions, in hope that his jump to the Majors comes sooner than later as a utility player. His bat, many argue, is already Major League-ready. So he'll continue moving around the field -- he recently played five different positions in as many games -- in an effort to ride the fast-track route to the big leagues on his versatility. Once there, he can work out at a bevy of positions and, come spring, perhaps focus solely in on one, like shortstop.

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.