Posted on February 17, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Oakland Athletics have endured three straight losing seasons and three straight last-place finishes in the AL West. However, last year’s 75-87 season did yield some signs of progress and hope for the future. Outside expectations remain low, but are the A’s in a position to surprise some people and take a step forward in 2018?
The A’s haven’t quite put together a rotation that can take them into the future. When healthy, Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea provide a solid 1-2 punch, but after trading Sonny Gray last summer, Oakland lacks a bonafide ace at the top of the rotation. On top of that, the A’s aren’t sure who’s going to hold the rotation spots behind Graveman and Manaea.
The good news is that the A’s have plenty of candidates for the last three spots in their rotation. Daniel Mengden and Paul Blackburn flashed a lot of potential last year, but they’ll need to prove they can be consistent. Andrew Triggs also looked like a solid option before missing the second half of 2017 with a hip injury. Jharel Cotton and Daniel Gossett are also in the mix, but neither was that impressive in the big leagues last season.
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Overall, the group has a fair amount of potential but answers few questions for the A’s heading into 2018. Oakland also shouldn’t be counting on any of their top pitching prospects to contribute until at least late in the season.
If nothing else, the A’s have some pitchers in their bullpen who they didn’t have throughout the 2017 campaign. Blake Treinin is penciled in as the closer after coming in a trade last summer. After struggling as Washington’s closer early last season, Treinin was much more comfortable in that role for the A’s. Yusmeiro Petit was also added through free agency to give the A’s another experienced setup man alongside Santiago Casilla.
Over the offseason, the A’s also did a nice job of adding lefties Emilio Pagan and Ryan Buchter. Neither is exactly an established veteran, but both offer plenty of upside coming out of the bullpen from the left side. Meanwhile, the likes of Chris Hatcher, Liam Hendriks, and Daniel Coulombe were all solid if unspectacular in Oakland’s bullpen in 2017. Those guys should be fine in middle relief, possibly something more if age starts to catch to Petit and Casilla. Overall, it’s a bullpen that could potentially be middle of the pack in the American League.
Scoring runs may not be a huge issue for the A’s in 2018. At first glance, Oakland’s lineup appears to be loaded with power. Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are a couple of young, promising power hitters who will handle first base and third base, respectively. They should be complemented in the middle of the order by veterans Khris Davis and Matt Joyce. The A’s also added Stephen Piscotty, who had a rough 2017 but was a productive hitter for the Cardinals in 2015 and 2016.
With a formidable, albeit young, middle of the order, the key for the A’s could be their table setters at the top. Shortstop Marcus Semien was solid the second half of 2017 after missing the first half with a wrist injury. Jed Lowrie was surprisingly productive last year and needs to repeat that performance or risk losing his job to top prospect Franklin Barreto.
Another young player to watch is Dustin Fowler, who’s expected to be the team’s primary center fielder. Fowler suffered a horrible injury in his first major league game last summer with the Yankees. But he excelled in the minors prior to that and could give the A’s an unexpected boost offensively in addition to being a quality defensive player.
As you’d expect, the A’s have a young roster with few players who have established themselves in the majors. However, there’s no shortage of intriguing players, especially offensively. Despite a bullpen that should be competent, the A’s don’t have the pitching to stay in the playoff hunt over 162 games, even if their lineup produces runs as expected. Look for Oakland to finish 78-84, which is a slight improvement over last year and could be just enough to help them avoid another last-place finish in 2018.