"Just Win Baby" - The Raiders Head to Camp With Optimism in Air

Derek Carr reminds some East bay fans of another #4, Brett Favre. (photo by Brian Bahr)

By Merlin Edwards III I @Trey_Me

Finally, for maybe the first time since the Rich Gannon era, the Oakland Raiders are heading into preseason camp with the legitimate ability to compete in the AFC West. In recent memory, there haven't been many years where fans in Oakland believed great things were to come. Now with an experienced coach at the helm and a talented QB behind center, the idea of holding playoff hopes is looking more and more reasonable for the Silver and Black and their fans.

The offseason was a success, as the coaching staff was revamped, as well as the offensive and defensive lines. There are new players everywhere you look, and for most teams, that is a terrible thing. For the Oakland Raiders, however, having a team with just a few returning players, is a blessing. As a Raiders fan myself, it has been hard trudging for the better part of a decade. The Raiders have been the butt of many jokes, and there has been little fans can say to rebut the negativity. When Reggie Mackenzie took over as general manager, after the great Al Davis passed, things have started to ascend from rock bottom. Thank god.

In Mackenzie's first season, he did not have a great draft, picking Tony Bergstrom and Miles Burris as his first two picks. Neither of which are still on the team. Mackenzie, however, did not have much to work with, since he did not have a pick until the 3rd round. In his next two seasons, he has been nothing short of fantastic. Since the 2013 draft, he has hand picked DJ Hayden, Menelik Watson, Sio Moore, Latavius Murray, Mychal Rivera, Justin "Jelly" Ellis, Gabe Jakson, TJ Carrie, Kahlil Mack, and Derek Carr. All of which have turned out to be starters. It may say something about the poor talent the Raiders have had in recent past, but to draft twelve starters in basically 2 years, is an amazing accomplishment.

The two of that group with the most potential to initiate change, are Kahlil Mack and Derek Carr. Ideally, Reggie could not have asked for anything better than drafting two potential game changers, who happen to play two of the most important positions, on each sides of the football. Going forward, there are lofty expectations for Derek and Kahlil.

The great part about them having high expectations, however, is that they are both supremely humble people, while also embracing, and even enjoying the pressure that comes along with being truly great. When watching and listening to press conferences and interviews with the two young studs, they exude an aura about them, and clearly have the "it" factor. Confidence seems to ooze from their mouths and body language. I expect his to translate to even more success on the field in 2015.

Of course, a lot of that confidence comes from preparation, and a willingness to be great. Kahlil Mack has added 15 pounds of muscle, which bodes well for his ability to not only hurry the quarterback this upcoming season, but bring him down as well. Mack's 40 quarterback hurries last season were second to only the Broncos' Von Miller (47).

Quarterback Derek Carr, despite being sidelined by a finger injury early in the offseason, is back and ready to build a rapport with his many new targets. Carr must truly outshine everyone, in order for the Raiders to start winning. As good as Mack can be, all football fans know that in order to play at an elite level, teams need a franchise quarterback behind center. I believe Carr can be that franchise guy.

The NFL has seen many a promising quarterback come and go, in short periods of time, because of a lack of a nurturing environment. Oakland's new coaching staff must make it a number one priority to make sure that Derek is getting everything he needs, in order to help him turn into the special player he can be. Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper have been brought in, as well as OTA stand out rookie, Clive Walford. Add those new weapons to second year player Mychael Rivera, an expectedly resurgent Rod Streater, and "match up nightmare" Marcell Reese, and it certainly seems as if optimism is warranted.

As a season ticket holder, all I want is for a team that is competitive. If I can go to a game at the Coliseum and be entertained by good football, I am okay with that, win or lose. The Raiders are my team, more than any other in my fandom, and for the first time since I was about 10 years old, we have a group of players with a potential and a drive to be great, and finally, turn this thing around.

One Nation. Raider Nation. Just Win Baby. 

Oakland Splits with Seattle, Heads to New York to Face Yankees

Stephen Vogt will head into Gotham City as a newly minted All-Star. (photo by Thearon W. Henderson)

By Merlin Edwards III | @Trey_Me

For the 2015 Oakland Athletics, there has not been a whole helluva lot to cheer about. The team has been wildly inconsistent, and every time positive things arise, a bad game or even a prolonged slump snuffs out any light of greatness to come. When the As suffered a tough one-run loss on Sunday afternoon to Seattle, they split the series with the Mariners and ended up finishing their home stand at 5-5. Even with the team playing better recently (15-12 in June), it is still very much in question if they can make an honest run at the first place Houston Astros.

It may seem like a pessimistic stance, but A's fans might have to be real with themselves and admit that this team just does not seem to have the firepower to secure a playoff spot this season. Fortunately, when A's fans step back and admit that this team is not as good as it has been in the past couple of seasons, plenty of silver linings can be found. The team has a respectable run differential, the starting pitching is thriving, and they FINALLY beat Felix Hernandez over the weekend!

To recap the four game weekend series versus Seattle, the Athletics won the first game convincingly, 4-0. Game 2 on Friday night went Seattles way, as the Mariners pounded out four home runs. Game 3 pitted the As against the vaunted King Felix Hernandez, who hadnt lost to the As in Oakland in seven years. The A's jumped on Hernandez early and didnt look back. Fortunately, Kendall Graveman had his "A" game working, as the young right hander went toe-to-toe with the King to pull out a much needed win.

With momentum on their side, Oakland trotted out Chris Bassitt for Sundays finale. Bassitt pitched well early until his location started to falter, giving up a 2-run single with 2 outs in the top of the 6th inning to former Athletic, Seth Smith. That gave Seattle the 2-1 lead and there would be no more scoring in the game. There were bright spots of the series, however, including the bullpen pitching much better. They gave up 5 runs in the series but all 5 came during game 2's home run barrage by Seattle. Otherwise, the bullpen was almost dominant. The main positive take away, though, was most definitely getting the Felix Hernandez monkey off our back.

Ever since Hernandez started pitching well for the Mariners, it seems like there was a curse put on the A's lineup. It is not all that rare for a team to get lucky and miss out on a very dominant pitcher during any particular series. For the A's, however, that is not something fans have been able to count on when facing the Mariners. It almost seems as if the Mariners intentionally set up the rotation from the beginning of the season, to be absolutely certain that every series the A's and M's play, Felix will be on the mound.

Unfortunately for the A's, in recent years, a Felix start meant an automatic L in the loss column for Oakland. Beating him on America's birthday is a step in the right direction that can hopefully build more confidence among As hitters moving forward. The key now is to focus on the next test and take some bravado and confidence with you to the Big Apple to face the Yankees.

For the last road trip before the All-Star break, the As will make stops at Yankee Stadium and in Cleveland. Sonny Gray is on the bump on Tuesday night (back from a serious stomach illness), while the resurgent Scott Kazmir follows on Wednesday. At 38-46, the As first goal should be to climb back to .500. Thankfully, Sonny has the ball tonight, so we are in good hands. As much as Id like to point to the fact that the As are just 6 ½ games out of an AL Wild Card, Ill try to keep my expectations in check, at least for now.