2014 A’s preview: What will it take to three-peat in AL West?
Offense: The A’s will surely platoon in various positions, but one player that will be in the lineup every day is Josh Donaldson. The third baseman led Oakland in average (.301), OPS (.883) and RBI (93). Yoenis Cespedes batted .240 with 26 homers last season, but will be expected to improve in 2014. The Athletics will also get back a healthy Josh Reddick, who nursed wrist injuries for most of last season.
Rotation: The Athletics boasted one of the top young pitching staffs in 2013, but with injuries this offseason, Oakland will be forced to enter the season with a makeshift rotation. Jarrod Parker (12-8, 3.97 ERA last year) needed Tommy John surgery and will be out for the season. Parker was the projected ace for the club. Oakland signed lefty Kazmir after his bounce-back year (10-9, 4.04) with the Indians. Kazmir was bothered by triceps tightness, but looks to be regaining form just in time for Opening Day. A.J. Griffin (14-10, 3.83) has been resting for three weeks with discomfort in his elbow. That means Bob Melvin will look to Sonny Gray (5-3, 2.67) and Dan Straily (10-8, 3.96) to carry the load. Gray will start the A’s opener. Tommy Milone (12-9, 4.14) and Jesse Chavez (2-4, 3.92) could be possible replacements to fill in for Parker and Griffin.
Bullpen: The A’s carry arguably the deepest bullpen in the MLB. Despite the loss of All-Star closer Balfour, who signed a free-agent deal with Tampa Bay, Oakland heads into the season with considerable depth. The A’s signed closer Johnson (away from Baltimore) and relievers Luke Gregerson (San Diego) and Fernando Abad (Washington). Johnson saved 51 games in 2012 and 50 last year for the Orioles. Sean Doolittle (3.13 ERA last year) and Ryan Cook (2.54) also return and are exceptional setup men, who could potentially serve as closers in the future.
Player to watch: Donaldson had a breakout season last year to give the A’s some consistency at third base. His top-notch defense and his power could make him a star on a team that platoons and prides itself in balance and playing the matchups.
Why they will win: All-Star caliber seasons from Cespedes and Donaldson can carry the already-productive offense to a dominant level, a third consecutive American League West title and postseason series wins. The A’s lost decisive Game 5s in the ALDS the past two seasons, so getting past that roadblock is definitely a goal for Melvin’s crew.
Why they will lose: Any more injuries to the starting rotation could set the A’s back in a division loaded with power.
Rob Neyer’s outlook: The A’s are the Feel Good Story of … well, not of Baseball. That would be the Rays. But after winning two straight division titles while operating on a shoestring budget, the Athletics are the Feel Good Story of the West Coast, for sure. Can they make it three straight this season? They can. They probably will not, for the simple reason that they’re little better than the Rangers or the Angels, and perhaps no better at all. They lost closer Balfour, and replaced him with former O’s stopper Johnson. Wash. They lost starter Colon, and replaced him with Kazmir. Wash. The rest of the roster is essentially unchanged, except projected rotation-mates Griffin and Parker both have gone down with serious elbow injuries. Fortunately, the A’s are deep in starting pitchers. But that merely allows them to stay even with their competition. Should make for one hell of a pennant race.