Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Oakland Athletics: 2013 Recap and 2014 Predictions

This season was truly a sensational season for the Oakland Athletics, albeit a quiet one compared to the also spectacular season they had in 2012, winning the AL West on the final day of the season. Hopes were higher for the Athletics in 2013, returning with their team pretty much intact the odds of a repeat in the AL West were good. The Athletics won two more games in 2013 (96-66) than in 2012 (94-68) and they did it in a much more subdued fashion. The A's fought through injuries, Josh Reddick's wrist being one of the biggest, yet had enough depth to remain consistent. They won at least 16 games in each month of the season except July where they experienced a slight slump but that didn't put a hiccup in their step as they ended the season with their second consecutive American League West Title, making them a good candidate for World Series victory.
Unfortunately for the Athletics the 2013 American League Division Series ended in the exact same fashion as the 2012 ALDS, being shut out by Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers in game five. What went right for the A's in 2013 to get them back to the postseason? And what went wrong for them to lose again to the same team and the same pitcher in game five of the ALDS?
The Athletics were dominant all season, more than once stringing together mini streaks of 8 or 9 games. They had dominate pitching in CY Young candidate 40 year old Bartolo Colon and later on with mid season call up Sonny Gray. Closer Grant Balfour broke Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley's consecutive save streak with 41 straight saves. The two other notable names of the A's bullpen were set up men Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook along with long relievers Jesse Chavez (who pitched an amazing 7 innings in the 18 inning marathon against the New York Yankees in July) Pat Neshek and Jerry Blevins. The A's bats were on the majority of the time but more often than not they relied on the big hit or the big home run from one of their players, like 1B Brandon Moss, 3B Josh Donaldson, CF Coco Crisp and in the case of the aforementioned 18 inning game, rookie Nate Freiman hitting a walk off single against the great Mariano Rivera.
Relying on the big hit became a problem for the A's in the playoffs when they were required to hit against the Tigers three aces, 21 game winner Max Scherzer, ERA leader Anibal Sanchez, and the always incredible Justin Verlander. The A's won the second game of the series with young call up Sonny Gray out pitching Verlander and the third game in Detroit again depending on the long ball. Come game five the Athletics were forced to face their nemesis, Justin Verlander, an almost unhittable pitcher, who took a no hitter into the 7th inning until Yoenis Cespedes's base hit in the bot of the 7th inning broke up the no-no. The problem is that Detroit got their one long 2 run shot off of Sonny Gray courtesy of Miguel Cabrera and ended up winning the game 3-0 while the A's were waiting for that one big long ball that never came.
In short the A's need a big, dependable and possibly even well known bat in 2014. It's the consensus of many that they must bring someone in to help the lineup a little bit. However, there are definite chances that those big hits could come from guys like Reddick who played all season with a wrist injury and finished with only 12 homeruns while the year before he hit 32 homeruns and won a Gold Glove. Brandon Moss hit 30 homeruns this season so there is a good chance that he could emerge into the spolightlight the way another of the A's, Josh Donaldson, did this season. Cespedes is another candidate to be a great homerun hitter next season hoping that he stays healthy, he won the Home Run derby in 2013 but did not produce as well in regular season games. Finally when it comes to clutch hits one cannot forget to mention team leader and all around clutch guy, Coco Crisp.
All of these players, barring a crazy unforseen trade should be on the A's roster come opening day 2014. Even though all of these players have proven themselves offensively, the question remains: will the A's try to acquire a big bat?
There are rumors that the A's will trade players like started turned long reliever, Brett Anderson and there have been rumors that they may be interested in acuiring David Price. Still this doesn't seem likely as the A's are in talks with Bartolo Colon about pitching another season. Colon, at the age of 40 and having spent a stint on the disabled list, still finished second overall in the American League in both ERA and Wins! He had one of his lifetime best seasons and the A's believe that he has a few more years in him. They have already resigned team leader, 33 year old, Coco Crisp who is coming off of a career year. Overall it is not likely that they A's will be making too many changes to their already talented roster. At this point closer Grant Balfour isn't in that picture. At 35 and having had the best year of his career, Balfour can command more money than the A's would be able and/or willing to pay. But there have been talks about mid season call up Dan Otero stepping up in the closer's role, Doolittle and Cooke (who did struggle at the end of the season) are also in contention. for the closer roll.
Grant Balfour

It is likely that the A's will find a strong bat to add to their roster. More than likely an aging player who is happy to DH and hit home runs, ala the sucess they had in 2002 with David Justice and in 2006 with Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas. The Athletics will not be renewing contracts or picking up options for neither OF Chris Young nor catcher Kurt Suzuki, leaving Derek Norris and John Jaso to platoon at catcher. Besides them and Balfour there are questions about rookie Nate Freiman and if he will be involved in the club's plans for next season. In the off season both Sonny Gray (left thumb) and Josh Reddick (wrist) will be having surgery but both are projected to be ready to go when pitchers and catchers report to spring training in the middle of February.
From the perspective of this writer I believe that the 2014 Oakland Athletics line up will look something like this:
Coco Crisp, CF
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Jed Lowrie, SS
Brandon Moss, 1B
Yoenis Cespedes, LF
Josh Reddick, RF
Seth Smith, DH
John Jaso and Derek Norris platooning at C
Eric Sogard / Alberto Callaspo platooning at 2B

But this line up does need to look out for up and coming players such as the AAA afiliate Sacramento River Cats Michael Choice who's shown potential and hit .302 last season with 14 home runs. And this pick may seem premature but after his performances in spring training, with the A's single A affliate the Stockton Ports and his so far impressive numbers in the Arizona fall league, Addison Russell has the potential to do big things in the Majors and it is entirely possible he could work his way to AAA Sacramento and into the show by the end of the 2014 seasons. It's also a good idea to keep an on relief pitchers Seth Frankoff and Bruce Billings who both pitched brilliantly in 2013 for the Ports and should soon be called up to AAA and possibly to the show by the end of the season! But predictions for the Atheltics pitching in 2014 are as follows
Starting Rotaton:
Bartolo Colon
Sonny Gray
Jarrod Parker
Dan Straily
AJ Griffen

The Bullpen:
Jerry Blevins
Sean Doolittle
Ryan Cooke
Jesse Chavez
Pat Neshek
Dan Otero
Overall with a very similar team as in 2013 and with the continued leadership of 2012 Manager of the Year, Bob Melvin, the Athletics will have a chance to win the American League West for the third straight time. It will as with all teams depend on staying healthy and in the Athletics case keeping their bats alive. The A's pitching will be solid with the resigning of Colon and the talent in their farm system. The addition of a proven hitter might be the key to them finally getting past the American Division series for the first time since 2006.

*This posting can also be seen on Sports Unbiased (actually proof-read and edited! lol)* at http://sportsunbiased.com/mlb/18258/oakland-athletics-2013-recap-and-2014-predictions/

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