The Athletics shared surprise team status in the American League with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018, but only their efforts earned a post-season berth. Manager Bob Melvin earned AL Manager of the Year honors, his third such selection, with his team’s 97 wins that would have easily won four of the divisions in Major League Baseball. Unfortunately for the A’s, they are in the AL West with the Houston Astros who outdistanced them with 103 victories.
General Manager David Forst assembled the team with the second-lowest payroll in the big leagues a la his boss, Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, Billy Beane. Once again, the Moneyball formula resulted in a team that seemingly overachieved. But with the history of this approach, it’s increasingly difficult to regard successful campaigns by the A’s as anything but ordained.
Oakland’s offense was centered around slugger Khris Davis who eclipsed the 40 home run mark for the third straight season completing a pattern where his home run totals have increased in every successive season of his career. Davis belted 48 HR’s, drove in 123 runs, scored a career-high 98 runs and sported a .326/.549/.874 slash line. The DH also finished 2018 batting .247, the fourth consecutive season finishing with that batting average. Davis is truly a hitter on a roll and it would take a Herculean effort to keep those streaks going in 2019. However, the 31 year-old is headed for free agency after this season, so bettering his home run and RBI totals wouldn’t be too much of a surprise in a walk year.
In support of Davis the A’s return right fielder Stephen Piscotty, first baseman Matt Olson, third baseman Matt Chapman and shortstop Marcus Semien. A group that not only brings the power on offense, but were the core of what was one of the top three defenses in the major leagues in 2018. Young center fielder Ramon Laureano offers 20/20 potential at the plate and strong defense. Mike Fiers returns to head the starting rotation and joins Brett Anderson as the only definite starters back to toe the rubber on a regular basis. Sean Manea, Jharel Cotton, Andrew Triggs and Paul Blackburn are all on the comeback trail in efforts to make the A’s rotation.
The bullpen was the life force of the team last season anchored by closer Blake Treinen who was practically unhittable with a 9-2 record, 100 K’s and 38 saves in his 80.1 innings of work. The 30-year-old destroyed opposing offenses with a 0.78 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings. In support of Treinen will be returning veterans Fernando Rodney, Liam Hendriks, Yusmeiro Petit, Ryan Buchter and Lou Trivino. Melvin deployed Hendriks as an opener in their wild-card loss last season and has stated that the strategy may be utilized further in 2019.
The significant departure for Oakland over the offseason was that of Jed Lowrie moving on to the Mets as a free agent. Lowrie posted career-best totals of 23 HR and 99 RBI’s leaving a large hole in the third spot of the A’s batting order. To replace Lowrie, at least in the field, Forst acquired infielder Jurickson Profar from the Rangers. Oakland also added veteran outfielder Robbie Grossman, reliever Joakim Soria,
The one constant in the ever-evolving equation for the A’s is the Oakland Coliseum. While players come and go, the deep power alleys and expansive amounts of foul territory never cease to steal outs from batters and strangle offensive attacks. In spite of continued efforts by the team to escape the Coliseum, the A’s have effectively adapted their skill sets to what their stadium dictates. Stifling defense from Chapman, Semien and Laureano lead the way to limit
To truly appreciate the A’s, one cannot do so by comparing them to too many other teams. Billy Beane and David Forst have a formula for success made necessary by the team’s circumstances which, more often than not, delivers a competitive team that is in striking distance of post-season play. With the Mariners and Rangers in varying stages of reshaping their rosters, the A’s have yet another opportunity to contend in the American League West. While the Astros appear to be the class of the division, if not the American League itself, it will not be out of the question to find the A’s in the hunt for another wild card spot. The only thing more fun than trying to recognize who shows up in an A’s uniform will be watching the team win games in 2019…a lot of them.