The first two games of this young 2013 season seem like an eternity ago. When the Athletics could hardly put a few hits on the board, let alone any runs. They started the season 0-2, and it appeared that the offense was going to struggle atleast from the outset. Little did we know that the antidote to their woes would be Joe Saunders, a league average pitcher who just always seems to have the Athletics number. He didn’t this time around, the A’s put some crooked numbers on the board and seemed to get their season on the right track. They split the series with the Mariners, and on Sunday they completed a sweep of the hapless Houston Astros by a rather comfortable margin.
So now the team sits at 5-2, which is the best mark in the American League and puts them 1/2 game ahead of the Texas Rangers in the AL West. It’s hardly time to start counting the A’s magic number, considering there are still 155 games left to be contested, but it’s nice for them to start building a cushion now so they don’t have to dig themselves out of the same type of hole they did in 2012. The team is notorious for getting off to slow starts and making second half surges, so a nice consistent winning season would be nice for a change, but again, this is after 1 week of a 6 month season.
There isn’t much you can conclusively decide after just 7 games, but there are some aspects of this team that are becoming clearer to evaluate. Just like during Spring Training, the middle infield has to be at the forefront of the discussion, for good and for bad reasons. There’s no doubt that Jed Lowrie has been nothing short of an offensive force during the first week of the season. Lowrie’s sizzling hot .500/.567/1.000 slash line with 3 home runs and 4 doubles and 6 RBI. Hiroyuki Nakajima may have been been preordained as the team’s starting shortstop before the Cactus League got underway, but he played himself out of that role, and Lowrie played himself into that role. Then of course Nakajima injured his hamstring at the end of the spring, and made the Athletics decision for shortstop that much easier. Now Lowrie has played at such a high level, that even when he cools down he has to remain as the team’s everyday shortstop. Only a complete reversal of fortunes between he and Nakajima could change that at this point. What to do with Nakajima is an entirely different discussion.
Eric Sogard tore apart Spring Training pitching this year, much like he did last year to a lesser degree, and much like last year as well he seems to have failed to translate that into regular season success. Sogard has started 6 of the team’s 7 games, and has posted a weak .158/.273/.158 slash line. His defense has been helpful, I won’t discount that, even though he did let a routine grounder go through his legs on Opening Night. Sogard probably does still have a place on the team due to his defensive skills as well as his versatility, for now, but once Nakajima and Adam Rosales are healthy that might not be the case. Nakajima had begun to take some grounders at second and third base before he got hurt, and figures to continue doing so once healthy. So either Nakajima, or Scott Sizemore may begin to get the bulk of the playing time soon if Sogard doesn’t find his stroke once again.
Then there’s Josh Donaldson, there was little competition for him during the spring, aside from the proposed “super utility” role for Jed Lowrie. He’s been perhaps the most anemic hitter in the Athletics lineup thus far. He’s hitting just .120/.154/.160 right now, but like Sogard he is playing very strong defensively. He figures to get a little bit longer leash than Sogard because of the production he provided the Athletics down the stretch last year, but if he doesn’t pick things up he’ll have to step aside for another option.
It’s not all bad though, Coco Crisp is just about as hot as Jed Lowrie right now, Chris Young is proving to be the best 4th outfielder in the game quite possibly, and Seth Smith is easily the best 5th outfielder of all time (slight exaggeration perhaps). John Jaso is hitting .353/.389/.412, and Derek Norris is hitting .333/.400/.333 to make for a nice looking catcher platoon thus far. Brandon Moss isn’t hitting much though on the young season, but he’ll get a fair amount of slack considering the lack of options at his position (He does also have a very pregnant wife who’s ready to give birth any moment on his mind). Josh Reddick hasn’t hit much except for Thursday’s game, but his presence in the lineup is important to the team’s success. He very well could have broken his arm crashing into the wall today, and the A’s dodged a bullet with the news that it was just a sprained wrist. Hopefully he only misses a couple games, but the A’s don’t want this becoming a season-long problem.
The A’s have gotten off to a very strong start, but they were playing one mediocre team and one dreadful team, they haven’t been tested yet. Tuesday night they help the Angels open up Angel Stadium in Anaheim, and they’ll receive their first true test of 2013. Jarrod Parker will take on C.J. Wilson, and Parker will be out to improve upon his first outing of the season where he struggled with his command and allowed 4 earned runs in 5 innings of work. The Angels have assembled themselves a very Texas Rangers-esque lineup with the addition of Josh Hamilton, time will tell if the Athletics are up to the task.