Weekly preview of each of the Rangers’ American League West rivals for the 2013 season – from the bottom up.
The Oakland Athletics won the American League West last year in dramatic fashion, snatching the division title away from the Rangers on the final day of the season. If you are reading this, I’m betting that you haven’t forgotten.
With a hodge-podge of contributing veterans, break-out players, timely performances and a Cuban who is slugging his way towards stardom, the A’s won the division when the consensus going into 2012 was that they would finish a distant third to the Rangers and Angels.
So, who would dare pick them to finish third again? Who would challenge Moneyball? Who would give the A’s their bulletin board material in 2013? Me…and Dan Szymborski of ESPN.com…and others for that matter…but most importantly ME.
Bottom line (oddly near the top of the article), I’m not a believer. The Rangers helped the A’s to the West title last year more than any other team in baseball could have. The A’s don’t have what it takes to win the AL West without another collapse from the Rangers and Angels.
The Bats & Gloves
This is still a lineup made up of guys (with the exception of a few) that are relative no-names. No offense to those guys, but these just aren’t names that the average baseball fans is familiar with. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good…
- Coco Crisp, CF
- Jed Lowrie, SS
- Josh Reddick, RF
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF
- Brandon Moss, 1B
- Seth Smith, DH
- Josh Donaldson, 3B
- John Jaso, C
- Scott Sizemore or Eric Sogard, 2B
There are some projections out there that have Jaso batting higher in the order and even 2nd, but Lowrie is leading candidate. Former Diamondback outfielder Chris Young will also probably get plenty of ABs as the fourth outfielder on the team.
Three bats that peak my interest:
- Brandon Moss…solid player who far exceeded expectations in 2012 – or – late blooming journeyman who just needed a chance to prove he is a middle of the order talent? The 29 year-old Moss, with his fourth team in Oakland, broke out like no other in 2013, and while I’m inclined to call it a “one-hit wonder”, I’m not quite ready to completely dismiss Moss. In 265 crucial at-bats last year, he hit 21 bombs with a .954 OPS. Projected over a full season, he would have been a 40+ HR, 100+ RBI MVP candidate. The only other season in his career in which he had as many plate appearances was in 2009 when he hit 7 dingers with a .236 batting average with 120 more at-bats than what he had last year. So, will the real Brandon Moss please stand up? Like I said, I’m intrigued.
- John Jaso was once trusted to lead off by the great Joe Maddon (he with the sweet black-rimmed specks). Jaso flies under the radar (just like the A’s like ‘em), but is an extremely productive player when you take into account he is a catcher (thin position). Last year with the Mariners, he hit 10 HRs with 50 RBIs over just 294 at-bats, while putting together an impressive slash – .276/.394/.456. While it’s quite possible that Jaso too played above his head a bit in 2012, this dude can hit and he is a perfect fit for this line-up. Derek Norris will still get time behind the plate, but Jaso’s bat will find away in to the line-up more often than not.
- Yoenis Cespedes scares me and he should scare you too. As stated earlier, this team is made up of a bunch of second-chancers and no names with the exception of a few….and Cespedes is part of the few. Wanna dark horse for 2013 AL MVP? Look no further. Cespedes put together an impressive rookie campaign in 2012 with a .292/.365/.505 slash, but when you look at the splits, you see that he really figured it out in the second half of the season with an OPS of 119 points higher than the first half. He doesn’t care if the pitcher is a rightie or a leftie, and get’s even better when runners are in scoring position (.345/.430/.540 slash with RISP).
Defensively…well, you’ve probably seen Moneyball…so you know how Billy Beane does it. Outfielders are good, infielders are average…again, breaking down defense is boring. Not dismissing it’s importance, but c’mon…
The A’s have an impressive stable of young starters who, while none of which are Ace material, combine to make a strong rotation – that’s synergy…maybe.
- Brett Anderson, LHP
- Jarrod Parker, RHP
- Tommy Milone, LHP
- A.J. Griffin, RHP
- Bartolo Colon, RHP
Dan Straily will be the 5th starter for at least the first time through the rotation, but it’s really Colon’s spot to lose.
- 2nd in the American League in team ERA at 3.48
- 2nd in the American League in team WHIP at 1.239
- Last in American League with just 1 Complete Game – they rely on their pen.
- In the bottom 3 of the AL in strikeouts while in the bottom 5 in the AL in walks – they don’t blow you away, but they also don’t give free passes.
They will definitely miss Brandon McCarthy, but Brett Anderson and Jarrod Parker make up a pretty salty 1-2 punch at the top of the order. Parker has the potential to be something special for the A’s long-term at the tender age of 24 and under the team’s control through 2017.
Given the stat above of only one complete game last year, the A’s are a team that leverages their bullpen regularly….exactly 161 times in 2012. Grant Balfour will be the closer once again. The bullpen, like the rest of this team, underwhelms you by name but gets the job done.
Bob Melvin is a healthy 6’4″, 205 pounds and has a career managerial record of 634 – 628, so….there’s that.
The Bottom Line
Look, the Athletics are a dangerous team, as proven by last year’s dominance down the stretch, but…I don’t think they are better than the Rangers or the Angels…on paper…which is why they play the games.
Could the A’s surprise us all again? Of course, but this team is not a playoff team without help, in the form of a collapse, from the Rangers and/or Angels unless both wild card teams happen to come from the American League West (which was the prediction from ESPN The Magazine).
- Best Case: 94-68, same as last year. While the Astros will help them out in the win column, I see more consistent and improved play from the Rangers and Angels stopping the Athletics from improving upon last year’s mark.
- Worst Case: 82-80, this team is better than .500, barring any major injuries.
Down to the top 2 now…stay tuned.
Side note – we are less than two weeks away from the 2nd Annual Baseball Do Field Trip. We still have tickets available. If you want to go and your want your shirt to be ready for the Field Trip, you need to order your tickets tomorrow. Looking forward to it!