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2013 Oakland Athletics Preview

After taking the baseball world by storm in 2012, the A’s return almost their entire line-up for 2013 and look to make a push for their first World Series title in over two decades.

 

 

The Oakland Athletics were one of the most surprising teams in all of baseball last season, winning 94 games during a year that many predicted they would lose triple digit games when the season started. They did it with a group of very talented young players including potential MVP candidate Yoenis Cespedes, gold glover and power-hitter Josh Reddick and pitchers Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook, who made an appearance in the All-Star game in July. The A’s will have to work to take the AL West crown for the second straight season, but they certainly have the talent in place to do so and to make a run deep into the playoffs.

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Pitching

Oakland’s staff was tested mightily last season, with injuries and fatigue hampering several players and Bartolo Colon being suspended for PED use. The team jettisoned Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey after the two did their best to hold the rest of the rotation back last season, and they will get Colon back after the first five games of the season, which means he will only miss one scheduled start. They will turn to Brett Anderson (4-2, 2.57 ERA) to anchor their starting five and if he can stay healthy he should continue his dominance over opposing hitters. After battling through injuries and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Anderson used his impressive curve ball to keep opposing batters guessing in the second half of 2012. If the A’s can get a full six months of that in 2013, they will have little problem keeping pace in the AL West.

Colon (10-9, 3.43) missed the final 45 games of the season after being suspended for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Until his suspension, Colon was having his best season in years, allowing only 23 walks in 152.1 innings and was a strike-out machine. Whether or not Colon will be able to repeat his success clean this season remains to be seen. Even at his advanced age, Colon can still throw in the low-to-mid ‘90s, and if he can keep that going upon his return he will be the solid number two guy the rotation needs throwing behind Anderson.

The third and fourth spots will be filled by two of the best young pitchers in baseball right now. Jarrod Parker and Tom Milone both had fantastic rookie seasons in 2012, each winning 13 games and finishing with ERA’s under 3.75. Parker (13-8, 3.47) is a right hander with a wicked changeup and fastball, and if he can get his slider under control so that he has a quality third pitch, he could be good for 15 to 18 wins this season provided that he improves his approach on the road. Parker pitched much better at home last season, but he has a whole year of experience under his belt and should be better prepared for the rigors of pitching away from Oakland this year. He led the staff coming down the stretch and allowed just 11 home runs in 181.1 innings. Parker is likely the staff’s ace of the future, and he should be a lot of fun to watch this season if he posts numbers anywhere close to the ones he had in 2012.

Milone (13-10, 3.74) was a pleasant surprise for the ball club last season after coming over from the Washington Nationals in the trade that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nations’ capital. Milone is the lone southpaw in the A’s rotation and like Parker possesses a very good changeup that will be his out pitch again this season. Unfortunately Milone also had his struggles on the road last season and both he and Parker finished with ERA’s in the mid-to-upper 4’s while away from the bay area. If he can also rebound from that, he will be a solid number four guy who will eventually work his way into the number two or three spot in the rotation in the years to come.

The last spot in the rotation is up for grabs this spring and A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily are the front runners to win it. Both are second year pitchers and both had great showings for the club in 2012. Griffin went 7-1 after being called up and was one of the keys to the ball club’s second half success that secured them the AL West crown. He is a very confident pitcher and while none of his four pitches are anything spectacular, he controls all of them very well and is not afraid to mix them up regardless of the situation. Straily had a great season in the minors, but struggled a bit when he was called up down the stretch. When his slider was on, it was unhittable, but when it was off it was hit out of the ball park as Straily gave up 11 homers in just 39.1 innings of work. He will have to really impress this spring if he’s going to beat out Griffin for the final spot in the rotation, but he will most certainly be a factor in the rotation before the end of the season as it is unlikely that they will get through all of 2012 without some injuries or setbacks to one of their top two guys.

Bullpen

The biggest strength of the A’s incredible 2012 campaign was their bullpen. It took the bunch until July to really start to gel, but much of that was due to the failure of closer Brian Fuentes, but once the front office pulled the plug on him and inserted rookie Ryan Cook into the role, things turned around quickly. Cook was more-or-less a throw away player that the team received in the trade that also brought Parker to the club, but once he was given the opportunity to show his stuff, he proved that he was an incredible asset to the team and was rewarded for his efforts as their only representation in the All-Star game. Cook was aided by his set-up man, veteran Grant Balfour who also closed out his share of games for the club last season. The two proved to be the right combination to give the A’s offense a shot at a win and the club will be very happy when Balfour returns from a torn meniscus at some point this season. For now, Cook will be their closer coming out of camp but expect the two to trade duties once Balfour is ready to come off the disabled list.

Jerry Blevins was another arm that surprised everyone last season, using his fastball, curveball, changeup and slider effectively to rack-up outs for the club and keep opposing offenses from making things interesting in the 7 th inning. Blevins will probably play the role of set-up man in Balfour’s absence, and if the A’s can get the same kind of season out of him in 2013, they will have three relievers that can solidly handle the 7 th, 8 th and 9 th innings, shutting the door on any chance of a comeback from their opposition. Hideki Okajima, Pat Neshek and Evan Scribner are all in camp to compete for spots in the rotation, and returning members Sean Doolittle, who did a fantastic job after he was converted from position player to reliever last season, Jordan Noberto Travis Blackey Pedro Figueroa and offseason acquisition Chris Resop will all factor into the bullpen at some point during the season as well.



Offense

The A’s struggled offensively last season and the only reason they didn’t win 100 games was because they could not hit in situations when they could have maximized their scoring potential. They finished 14 th overall with 713 runs, and that might be a stretch to repeat this season with the loss of Brandon Inge and Chris Carter. Of their projected starting nine, only right fielder Josh Reddick hit more than 30 home runs last season, so the A’s are not going to hit for power. What they will need to do is utilize their speed to score runs the hard way, and that starts with lead-off man Coco Crisp.

Crisp was either on or he was off last season. In the A’s wins, he was on fire, averaging .303 with 27 steals and a slugging percentage of .542. When the team lost, Crisp averaged a meager .187 with 12 steals and a slugging percentage of .211. While this does not mean that Crisp was the sole cause of the A’s losses in 2012, he certainly didn’t do much to give them a chance to come back. If the club is going to be as successful in 2013, Crisp will need to bring his average up for the season and do so quickly. His slow start in 2012 was frustrating and given that he will have one of the best young players in all of baseball hitting behind him, the A’s need Crisp’s speed on base when Cespedes comes up to the plate.

Yoenis Cespedes had an almost unbelievable rookie campaign in 2012, hitting 23 home runs, driving in 82 runs and had on on-base percentage of .861. The team won 84 games when he was in the line-up, and lost 21 when he wasn’t. The fact is, Cespedes is going to be the key to their success in 2013 and for them to make a run at the AL Pennant, he will need to top his 2012 performance. Whether or not it is fair to place such big expectations on a second-year player is irrelevant, the kid needs to be the leader on the ball club or they will regress this year, plain and simple.

Behind Cespedes, the A’s will need Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick to carry their successes from 2012 over to the new season as well. Moss had a breakout year for the A’s in 2012, hitting .291 and giving the club 21 homers and 52 RBIs in the process. Reddick hit .242 with 32 homers and 85 RBIs and won himself both a gold glove and a silver slugger award in the process. One of the two will have to step up again in 2013 to give the club some insurance just in case Cespedes regresses a bit in his second season.

As for the rest of the line-up, the A’s tried to upgrade their least productive positions last season by getting catcher John Jaso (.276, 10 HR, 50 RBI) from Seattle and shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima (.311, 13, 74 in Japan) as upgrades this offseason. Second baseman Adam Rosales (.222, 2, 8), third baseman Josh Donaldson (.241, 9, 33) and DH Seth Smith (.240, 14, 42) will round out the line-up.

Outlook

The difference between the A’s that came into the 2012 campaign and the ones who are currently in spring training is the expectations that are associated with the ball club. Last year, nobody expected the club to compete for a divisional title, nor did anyone expect them to finish with anything close to a winning record. This season the expectation is that the ball club will take the AL West crown and make a run at the World Series. Those expectations may be unfairly high given that while the A’s did improve their offense, they didn’t do enough to ensure that they will be successful if Reddick or Cespedes slide in their production. They also have to hope that their young pitching staff is able to continue the success they had in the second half of 2012 and that their bullpen can continue to be lights out in the absence of Balfour.

With expectations being so high, it seems unlikely that the A’s will be able to simply steamroll through a division that has two other quality clubs in Los Angeles and Texas, and a resurgent Seattle team that could play spoiler as the season progresses. With that being said, I do think the A’s will win the division, but it is going to be very close, taking the crown by a half game over the Angels and making their second straight playoff appearance.

 

 

 

By Robert Gonzalez
MLBcenter.com Staff Writer

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