On the first day of preseason baseball, Josh Reddick scaled the fence like Spiderman to pull off two of the best catches ever. Newly acquired Michael Morse of the Giants stood dumbfounded over Reddick’s mystical powers as fans have already called it the catch of the year, even though it is still spring training. This play has set an exciting precedent for the A’s as they should win the AL West division and finally advance past the first round.
After winning 96 games a year ago, the A’s decided to let 18-game winner Bartolo Colon walk in free agency and replaced him with the resurgent Scott Kazmir. Kazmir, once the prized pitcher in the Mets organization, led the AL in strikeout in 2007 but has also bounced around the league in the past years. The large foul territory at the Coliseum makes for a pitcher-friendly ballpark so Kazmir should see a dip in his ERA. Tommy Milone, AJ Griffin and Jarrod Parker each won 12 or more games last year and is primed for a better year. With Jim Johnson as the new closer, their record should increase across the board. The pitching staff is anchored by young ace Sonny Gray. Manager Bob Melvin passed over Colon for the rookie Gray last year to pitch the pivotal Game 5. While the A’s lost 3-0 (Detroit’s Justin Verlander was nearly unhittable), selecting Gray was a bold move. The A’s success will revolve around his development. In 12 games, he had a 2.67 ERA and averaged more than a strikeout per inning. His inexperience is an asset as teams have yet to create a game plan against Gray. He enters his first full season at 24 with high expectations and an organization that has a history of crafting front-end starters (Dave Stewart, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Dan Haren). Gray’s potential is glowing and the A’s wins will only improve as he blossoms.
The success of A’s teams in the late ’80s was its star-studded batting which featured Rickey Henderson, Dave Henderson, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. Each was feared hitters who, with one swing, could change the complexion of the game. They also played ‘small-ball’ well manufacturing runs through stolen bases and sacrifices. Since Billy Beane took over as general manager, the downfall of the Moneyball era in Oakland has been its batting. The Moneyball philosophy is built around getting on base through walks or singles and then hitting a home run. Last season, A’s hitters showed discipline at the plate ranking overall in the top-5 in homers, OBP, SLG, and OPS. Yet the team was under .500 in games decided by three or fewer runs, a big reason for its disappointing first round loss. Over a 162 game season, A’s hitters would feast on average pitchers (ERA above 3.80), racking up a team batting average of .280. However, against the frontend starters (ERA below 3.50), the average hovered around .230. Brandon Moss led the team with 30 homers while Yoenis Cespedes and veteran Coco Crisp had over 20 but overall no one batted better than .261. Reddick played much of the year injured after having a breakout seasons in 2012. Each player struggled in the playoffs. The best pitchers feared throwing to the Bash Brothers of Canseco and McGwire. But today’s star pitchers chuckle at the strikeout-prone A’s lineup. If the Oakland fans are planning for a long October run, someone in the lineup needs to elevate his game to superstar status. The low-budget A’s invested $52 million in Cespedes and after two years in the league, he is expected to harness the challenge of being the face of the franchise.
Since Miguel Tejada bolted to the Orioles after the 2003 season, the A’s have been searching for that bonafide star. With a solid pitching staff and capable hitters, the organization looks to win now before its young stars seek the big contract through free agency. Improving their record during close games will help once they reach the playoffs. After consecutive first round losses, expect the team to overcome, Cespedes’ stock to escalate, and the A’s to be World Series contenders.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/.