Posted on March 12, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Oakland Athletics were easily the biggest surprise in baseball last season. With little expected of them before the season, the A’s ended up going 97-65 and playing in the Wild Card Game. Of course, one could argue that they did all that with a lot of smoke and mirrors. It’s now up to the A’s to prove that they can replicate that kind of success and continue to be playoff contenders.
The success of Oakland’s rotation may have been the biggest surprise for the A’s, which is why it’s tough to envision them replicating that success in 2019. Young ace Sean Manaea could potentially miss the entire season after having shoulder surgery last fall. Without him, Oakland will look to veterans Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, and Brett Anderson to lead their rotation. Fiers was great last season, but he’s not necessarily an ace who can lead a rotation. Estrada, meanwhile, appears to be approaching the end of his career and could be little more than an innings eater at this point in his career. Anderson also returns to the fold after pitching well for the A’s last year, although his health has been problematic in recent years.
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It could be up to Oakland’s young starters to step up and become leaders of the starting rotation. Frankie Montas finally started to come around last season while Daniel Mengden was impressive in flashes despite some ups and downs. Top prospect Jesus Luzardo is also getting closer to becoming a permanent part of Oakland’s rotation. However, there are certainly questions about how much depth the A’s have among starting pitchers, so they will need some of their young starters to grow up fast.
Oakland’s bullpen was a massive strength of the team last season, and that will need to be the case again in 2019. While they won’t be quite as deep as they were at the end of last season following some mid-season additions, there is no shortage of talent in the Oakland bullpen. It all starts with closer Blake Treinin, who was sensational last season. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to replicate his 0.78 ERA from last season, but the A’s will certainly be in good hands in the 9th inning.
Pitching in front of Treinin will be a slew of veterans with experience serving as a closer. Fernando Rodney returns to Oakland while longtime Royals closer Joakim Soria will also serve in a setup role. Yusmeiro Petit remains in the Bay Area after a strong campaign last season. Righty Lou Trivino and lefty Ryan Buchter add even more depth after both had breakout seasons in 2018. The A’s also have solid options in Ryan Dull and Liam Hendriks while youngster J.B. Wendelken was lights out for them last September.
The A’s were one of the better offensive teams in the American League last season, and there are reasons to believe they can keep that going in 2019. The man at the center of it all is DH Khris Davis, who blasted 48 home runs and drove in 123 RBIs last year. Davis now has three straight seasons with at least 40 home runs, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. Young sluggers Matt Olson and Matt Chapman will help to support Davis with plenty of power of their own. Right fielder Stephen Piscotty also had the best season of his career after coming to Oakland last year.
There’s little doubt that Oakland will hit plenty of home runs this season, but they will need guys to act as table setters. Shortstop Marcus Semien is well-suited for that role, although he needs to improve his on-base percentage. At the same time, young outfielders like Ramon Laureano and Dustin Fowler will be huge X-factors for Oakland. Both have great potential but haven’t proven they can produce over a full season. Fortunately for Oakland, veteran outfielders like Mark Canha and Robbie Grossman are in the mix in case their younger players aren’t ready yet.
Second base is another question mark for Oakland, as Jed Lowrie leaves big shoes to fill after his performance last year. The A’s acquired Jurickson Profar this winter in hopes that he can take that spot. Profar was once the top prospect in baseball and finally started to fulfill his vast potential last season, hitting 20 home runs for the Rangers. Youngsters Franklin Barreto and Jorge Mateo could also work their way into the lineup at one of the middle infield spots, so the A’s have plenty of talent working its way through the farm system.
There’s no denying that the A’s could have one of the best bullpens in baseball in 2019. They also have an intriguing lineup that includes plenty of power and a slew of young players who possess great upside. However, it’s hard to ignore the uncertainties with their rotation. Relying on guys like Fiers, Estrada, and Anderson to carry the pitching staff isn’t exactly a sound plan. Unless their young pitchers can exceed expectations, the A’s will be limited in what they can accomplish. Look for Oakland to finish 88-74, which is good, but it may not be enough to challenge the Astros in the AL West or get them back to the Wild Card Game.