2013 was a great year for the Oakland A’s. They won the AL West for a second year in a row with a 96-66 record. Hopes were high as the Athletics entered the postseason. However, the season ended just like it had in 2012 in the fifth game of the series. The A’s and the Detroit Tigers were tied two games apiece. Ultimately, the Tigers’ pitchers shut down the Athletics lineup. The Tigers won the final game 3-0.
Even though they could not push their way past Detroit, the A’s were both strong at the plate and in the field throughout the whole season. With the 2014 Home Run Derby Champion Yoenis Cespedes, speedy Coco Crisp, and 2013 AL MVP nominee Josh Donaldson, the Athletics seemed as though they could do no wrong. In 2013, the Oakland A’s were fourth overall in both runs and slugging percentage. With the lineup not changing by much this upcoming year, we should expect the similar success for 2014.
The A’s pitching was the downfall of 2013. They were stretched thin when it came to middle relievers. Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, and Dan Otero were the relievers the Athletics could count on most of the season. By the time the postseason rolled around, these guys were just plain tired. But A’s management realized this and took some time during the offseason to build one of the strongest and deepest bullpens in the MLB. This season fans and MLB teams alike will see major differences when it comes to Oakland’s pitching.
As the A’s go for the American League West title for a third year in a row, will they finally be able to make it to the World Series?
Best Case Scenario for 2014
After winning the West the past two years and revamping the bullpen during the offseason, it is clear that the best case scenario is that the Oakland A’s will win the American League Pennant. Even though the A’s have the skills and determination to win it all, the pressure of the World Series spotlight and the possibility of facing a big name team could end up rattling the team’s confidence especially since they have not participated in a World Series since 1990. The AL Pennant is more realistic because the Athletics will have already faced both teams they will need to beat in order to win the Pennant during the regular season and they will know what to expect.
Most Important Athletics
Coco Crisp is the most important Athletic, hands down. Not only is he great both offensively and defensively, but Cespedes told ESPN in February that Crisp is essential to team morale. His upbeat attitude and sense of humor brings their dugout to life. This will be his fifth season with the Athletics and over those five seasons he has become an icon in Oakland. His newest 2014 dance move – the “Ed Lover dance” – has already gone viral on youtube while his “Bernie Lean” has continued to be a fan favorite throughout his career with the Athletics.
Last season, Crips batted .261 with 66 RBIs, 22 home runs – a career high for him – and 21 stolen bases. His goal is top those numbers in 2014. If he is able to achieve this goal, Crisp will not only be the most important Athletic, but he will also be one of the best leadoff men the Athletics have had in a long time.
Then there is youngster Sonny Gray who brought new life to the Athletics’ pitching staff last season. Gray moved up to the major leagues mid-season and brought some much needed energy to a tired bullpen before being shifted to the rotation. During his debut season, he pitched to a 2.67 ERA and had a 5-3 record. Gray did so well that the Athletics gave him the honor of pitching in the postseason where he earned a 2.08 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in the two games he started. With a half-year under his belt, 2014 should be his breakout year.
With a week to go before the start of the regular season, the Oakland A’s have announced that Gray will be their Opening Day starter. This 24-year-old will have to take charge and be a leader in the A’s bullpen after a couple of the more veteran pitchers acquired injuries that have landed them on the DL for the start of the season. If he continues to bring that “Sonny” smile to the bullpen and that pit-bull like attitude to the mound, Gray will be one of the Athletics’ most reliable starters and definitely one of the most important Athletics for 2014.
Potential Breakout Players
Since Dan Otero spent half his time in Triple-A last season, he is not too well known at the Coliseum. But, in the 39 innings he pitched in Oakland, he posted an amazing 1.38 ERA and did not allow a single home run. Additionally, while in pitching Sacramento, he pitched as a closer and converted 15 saves out of 15 opportunities. If he is able to bring this success to the mound in Oakland for the entirety of this upcoming season, Otero will definitely be a star middle reliever and a potential alternative for closer.
At the ripe age of 30, Scott Kazmir will be the most veteran starting pitcher in the Athletics bullpen. Kazmir is suppose to be Bartolo Colon’s replacement and is expected to experience the same comeback that Colon did but at 30 instead of 40-years old. Kazmir has not seen much success since early in his career, but his pitching last season gave a glimpse of what might come in 2014. If Kazmir can build on his 4.04 ERA and a 10-9 record from 2013, he will definitely be a breakout star this upcoming season.
And let’s not count out Addison Russell – the Athletics top prospect for 2014. At 20-years old, this shortstop has speedy reflexes and a powerful arm. His success has helped him earn a number three ranking on Keith Law’s Top 100 prospects list on ESPN. Russell was invited to spring training this year and Athletics’ infield coach Mike Gallego told Comcast Sports Network Bay Area that Russell is a great student with a strong desire to learn as much as he can while in Phoenix, AZ. His strong determination to be the best and his dedication to the game could help him make the leap to the major leagues this year.
Russell was recently cut from the Athletics’ roster on Sunday, March 16th, and sent to the minor league spring training camp. Even though his hamstring injury sent him back to the minors earlier than expected, the Athletics liked what they saw this spring, and would not hesitate to bring him back up if there is a need during the regular season. Since Russell left such a huge impression on the coaching staff, it is almost certain that he will be in the A’s dugout in September, and that he will be Oakland’s starting shortstop in 2015.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst case scenario is that the Athletics do not make the postseason at all. The Oakland A’s and their fan have high expectations for this year. They also have a new found confidence since winning the American League West two years in a row. If the Athletics fail to make the postseason, it would be devastating to everyone in Oakland. If this happens, it will probably be the result of some of their more prominent players incurring long-term or season-ending injuries. The Oakland A’s have a lot of depth in their dugout and could easily replace a player or two for a few games. But if someone like Crisp was out for the whole season, then the Athletics would have a hard time making the postseason.
Areas of Concern
Shortstop and second base have been a concern for the Athletics for quite some time. Now that they have acquired Nick Punto and have the option of bringing up Russell, it could just be about finding the perfect combination of players to play these two positions. However, this could also mean that the Athletics’ infield will go through a transition period making it hard for them to find a good groove. If this can be figured out during spring training, there will be less pressure on the infield at the start of the regular season.
Lately, the Athletics’ starting rotation has been the cause of some major concern. Two starting pitchers, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, will start off the season on the DL. Griffin, who had been experiencing right elbow issues, has been told to rest for three weeks before he can start strengthening his arm again. Most likely, it will be more than a month before Griffin is back on the mound. The news was more unfortunate for Parker. Parker is going to need a second Tommy John’s surgery and will be out for the entire season.
These recent holes in the rotation will most likely to be filled by starter Tommy Milone and long reliever Jesse Chavez. Many are worried about this sudden change so close to the start of the season even though Milone and Chavez have been pitching well during spring training. The once rock solid bullpen is now going through some major changes, and it is unclear if they will land back on their feet.
Who needs to bounce back in 2014
Josh Reddick is the one Athletic that needs to bounce back in 2014. It seemed as though he was in a slump for most of the 2013 season and his numbers were considerably lower than in 2012. With only 12 home runs and 56 RBIs, his slugging percentage dropped from .463 in 2012 to .379 in 2013.
However, during the offseason, Reddick did get surgery on his injured wrist that had nagged him for almost all of last season after crashing into a metal wall during the first road game of 2013. Now that he is 100%, Reddick is already off to a better start in 2014, which he demonstrated by scaling the chain link fence in right field to make a amazing catch against the San Francisco Giants in the Cactus League Opening Day game on Wednesday, February 26th. This play is already being dubbed the catch of the year, so if Reddick continues along this path, 2014 will be a great season for him.
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