An Early Recant of one of my MLB Surprise Team Pick: The Oakland Athletics
By: Michael A. Chase Jr.
When I did my 2018 season preview for Major League Baseball I focused on a bevy of topics from division winners to breakout stars. One of the many previews I did involved determining which teams would out perform their preseason projections. I ended up choosing a team from each league, one from the National League and one from the American League. I chose the St. Louis Cardinals from the NL, and they are currently 30-24 this season. My AL pick was the Oakland A’s, who currently sit with a record of 29-28 on the season. Thus both of my preseason picks are having success, validating my choices for breakout teams so far this year. Though it is my American League pick of the two that has me intrigued about the possibility if they can sustain the success they have enjoyed thus far.
My AL surprise team the Oakland Athletics have held their own thus far in the very difficult American League. With their record above the .500 mark they have so far been anything but the basement dwellers many expected them to be. The main questions that now remain about them are simple. Those being, what have been the keys to the success of this team so far this year? How can they sustain their early winning ways? And will they continue to win and stay in the hunt to be playoff contender?
Beginning with the first question, the way the A’s have been able to hang around the .500 mark this year has been because of the blueprint for success I predicted. In terms these keys for the A’s to compete, they were their young starting pitchers turning the corner and their talented position player core becoming a formidable offense. For the A’s their starting pitching was one of their biggest issues last year. Whether it was lack of performance or lack of health the starting rotation and bullpen were both problematic. The A’s staff pitched to a 4.67 ERA which was 12th out of 15 AL teams in 2017, now they pitch to a 3.96 ERA which is 6th in the AL. Thus their staff has made almost a full run of improvement to their ERA from last season.
The main reason behind this significant improvement being the emergence of their young arms in both the rotation and bullpen. With youngsters Sean Manaea (26) and Daniel Megden (25) leading the way with ERA’s of 3.60 for Manaea and 2.91 for Megden respectively they have headed the large improvement of the Oakland starting rotation. Add on the resurgence of veteran arm Trevor Cahill and they lead a highly improved staff that has still dealt with injury and inconsistency. Plus with help on the way in the form of arms like highly thought of prospects like Frankie Montas (25) the rotation may only get better. The Bullpen has also helped this cause with the development of relievers Blake Treinen (30) as a bonafide closer with his 0.99 ERA and Lou Trivino (26) as a surprise contributor at the back end of the bullpen sporting a 0.90 ERA.
Along with solid performances by veterans Yusmeiro Petit, Chris Hatcher and Ryan Buchter and the A’s pen has become much more of a strength then a worry. Overall this swing in performance on the mound has given Oakland consistently a chance to win each time they take the field. Thus if A’s can continue to get these quality effort from their young arms and veterans alike there is no telling how long they can compete. While if they add in some health and improved performance for some of their other key pitchers like, Kendall Graveman, Liam Hendriks, and Jharell Cotton important pitching depth could be further built for the season .
For this team offensively it was that their core group of position players that had to take a big step forward this season to challenge their competition each contest. Young studs like Matt Olson and Matt Chapman among others had to make huge strides and grow into their roles as major contributors.
While veterans like Khris Davis and Jed Lowrie needed to lead by example and be glue guys to this young lineup. So far this year the A’s have scored 244 runs which puts them 9th in runs in the AL this season. Which means they remain steady and consistent in their production being that they finished 9th in runs scored last year and are on pace to outdo their run total of 739 of last season. Thus far they have gotten the key veteran contributions from infielder Jed Lowrie and outfielder/ DH Khris Davis that they needed to stabilize the lineup. With Lowrie leading the team with a .299 average and in RBI’s with 39. Davis once again leads the team in home runs with 13, but is getting more help in the power department from a bevy of sources with 8 players already with 5 or more homers for the A’s. The biggest part of the A’s offense though is and has been their young players being significant forces in their lineup. Matt Olson (24), Matt Chapman (25), Marcus Semien (27), Chad Pinder (26), and Dustin Fowler (23) have all played key roles in the A’s offense in many ways. Olson and Chapman have been productive in the middle of the Oakland order combining for 18 homers so far this year. While Marcus Semien has been one of the most consistent hitters for the A’s. Add in the fact Chad Pinder and Dustin Fowler have shown lineup versatility and have given the A’s bottom of the order power combining for 14 extra base hits and the kids look good. This overall production from many offensive sources have provided the A’s more depth in their lineup, while also making up for some underperformances from certain players. Because if you think the A’s offense is solid now if they can get vets like Stephen Piscotty, Matt Joyce, and Jonathan Lucroy going the lineup could get even more formidable. Plus add some of their young prospects like a Franklin Barreto to the mix this A’s offense could really take off. Overall the A’s despite not hitting on all cylinders are still a top half of the AL offense, but this leaves much room for improvement.
Thus after looking over all these numbers and watching a lot of their games this season the A’s look like the team on the rise I saw them as back in early March. The real questions now remain being, how can they sustain this success, and could they sneak into and stay in playoff contention? In terms how they sustain this success the simple answer for them is to continue what they have done thus far. Have their young arms continue to grow and lead the way in the rotation and bullpen, while the veterans on staff continue to provide solid production through the rest of the year.
They also need to continue to grow as a youngish offense and see their young players continue to learn and gain confidence at the MLB level. Add in some health and improved play from struggling contributors. Along with helpful and cost effective deadline acquisitions down the road and this team can sustain this winning play for a while.
Now whether they will do this and stay in playoff contention is harder to project. I did not choose them as a playoff team this year, but I firmly believed they could finish close to if not a couple games over .500. I will stay with my feelings they will miss the postseason but I believe they will be competitive all the way through the remainder of the season. The mixture of youth and quality younger veteran players will help keep them leveled this year and good for years to come. Thus this season I believe will prove my prediction right that this will be the surprise team of the American League this year. While providing a further glimpse of the bright future this Oakland team and Fan base has ahead of it with this Franchise going forward.