Posted on March 4, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
On the heels of back-to-back 97-win seasons and appearances in the Wild Card Game, the Oakland Athletics are hoping to set their sights a little higher in 2020. Of course, the A’s are still a small-market team without the same resources as some of the other teams around baseball. Nevertheless, the core of the team that reached the postseason the last two seasons is still in place. Is this the year that Oakland takes the next step or will a lack of funds be the team’s downfall?
The A’s tried to get by with veteran journeymen taking on significant roles in their rotation last season, but Oakland will be more committed to young arms in 2020. Sean Manaea missed most of last season due to shoulder problems, but he was outstanding in his four starts late in the year and was the team’s ace in 2018. The A’s will rely on him to resume that same role this year, putting a lot of pressure on his shoulders. Oakland also expects Frankie Montas to pitch like a frontline starter in 2020. Montas was lights out last year until a PED suspension all but ended his season in late June. However, the A’s feel good about him getting back to that same level minus the suspension this season.
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The one veteran holdover is Mike Fiers, who gave Oakland 33 starts in 2019, going 15-4 with a 3.90 ERA. It might be asking too much for the 34-year-old to replicate those numbers, but he should provide some stability in the middle of the rotation. From there, it could be up to youngsters Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk to determine how good Oakland’s rotation will be in 2020. They are both top prospects with high ceilings, although they have combined for 16 big league appearances, all in relief. In other words, it’s a mystery what the A’s can expect out of them as rookies in 2020.
The Oakland bullpen has been a huge part of the team’s success in recent years and the A’s are banking on that being the case again this year. Liam Hendriks took the reins as the closer last year, saving 25 games, mostly during the second half of the season. However, his 1.80 ERA is an aberration compared to the rest of his career. Meanwhile, the A’s have veterans Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria, and Jake Diekman to serve as the bridge to get to Hendriks. In theory, that group should form a stable bullpen, although age is a concern for all three.
There is also potential but some concern for the A’s in middle relief. The club would love to use Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden in relief, but both could be needed for the rotation depending on how the Oakland’s young starters perform. There is also hope but no guarantees for guys like Lou Trivino and J.B. Wendelken.
Offensively, the A’s should feel good about where they stand heading into 2020. The infield trio of Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Marcus Semien will continue to anchor the lineup. All three hit over 30 home runs and provide a formidable middle of the order for Oakland. The A’s could look even scarier if DH Khris Davis can return to form. He doesn’t have to hit 40-plus home runs like he did every year from 2016 to 2018. But he surely needs to do better than a .220 average and .679 OPS.
Even if Davis doesn’t bounce back, the A’s should have some quality depth in their lineup. Mark Canha is coming off a career year with an OPS of .913 in 2019. Ramon Laureano established himself as the everyday center field, adding another reliable bat to the Oakland lineup. The A’s are also hopeful that Stephen Piscotty can get back on track after an injury-plagued 2019 campaign. Finally, second baseman Franklin Barreto and catcher Sean Murphy are two youngsters who boast plenty of potential and will get a chance to earn everyday jobs.
From 97 wins in each of the past two years, expectations for 2020 are more modest with a win projection of 89.5 games. The A’s have the bats to keep rolling, although there are some mild concerns about the bullpen. A lot also hinges on the arms of Luzardo and Puk, not to mention Manaea staying healthy and Montas maintaining his early 2019 form. Look for the A’s to fall short of 89.5 wins in an AL West that will be more challenging than it was a year ago. However, if a few things break in their favor, don’t be surprised if the A’s get back to the Wild Card Game and become a team nobody wants to face in October.