I have to say I’ve been surprised at how hot the Oakland Athletics have been in the early portion of the season. With 16 games in the books (roughly 1/10 of the regular season) the team is 12-4 and already has a 9 game winning streak to their name, and has swept the Houston Astros twice, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Anaheim. It’s safe to say that this April thus far has been a far cry from the April we saw from the Athletics in 2012.
The team has picked up right where the 2012 edition left off offensively, averaging 6 runs a game, leading the American League in runs scored, and positioning themselves among the top teams in home runs. Surely they won’t be able to maintain this blistering offensive pace for the entire season, but they should be able to avoid team-wide prolonged slumps. That is the genius as to how Billy Beane has constructed this team, Yoenis Cespedes is on the DL and was scuffling offensively anyway, Josh Reddick has been a non-factor save for a few fleeting moments, and the team hasn’t skipped a beat. The presence of the amazing Seth Smith, and the capable Chris Young has meant the drop off between the original starting three outfielders and their backups is kept to a minimum. It just so happens that Seth Smith is perhaps off to the hottest start of any Athletics player, posting a .447/.512/.684 slash line in his first 43 plate appearances. That has certainly helped cushion the blow from the lack of production from Reddick and Cespedes.
The middle infield situation is more or less settled at the moment, Jed Lowrie has been on fire hitting .373/.448/.644 and is tied for the team lead with 13 RBI. Eric Sogard grabbed hold of the starting second base job in part due to his scorching spring, and the simple fact that he was healthy. He struggled badly early on, showing signs that this year was just another example of a player tearing of the Cactus League only to come crashing down to reality once the bell rings. But Sogard has gained a level of comfort at the plate over the last week, and has raised his average to .293 with a .356 on-base average. He plays solid defense at second as well, and believe it or not has become an asset to the team. He’s a fan favorite if for wearing glasses and having a friendly wife, if for nothing else, so his presence is surely welcome amongst many A’s fans. How long his hitting will last remains to be seen.
Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss appear to be proving that their 2012 levels of production were not completely fluky. Moss is hitting .283/.365/.478 with a couple home runs and 13 RBI. He appears to have eased any potential concerns the team would have had about possible regression in 2013. Donaldson initially looked like he could be reverting to his old habits, and a regression was in his future, but he’s picked it up over the last week. A hot bat coupled with his very good defense at third base will prove vital to the team’s 2013 success. He also brought the team’s first walk-off win of 2013 last Friday versus the Detroit Tigers.
The pitching has been less than stellar, but when the team scores as many runs as it has they have a little more margin for error than they might normally have. I’m concerned about Jarrod Parker, who has not had a quality start yet in 2013 and has pitched a grand total of 11.2 innings in 3 starts so far with a 10.80 ERA. He needs to get right, whether it’s in Oakland or even down in Sacramento. The bullpen has been very effective, despite allowing 4 runs yesterday against the Houston Astros. I’m not really concerned about the bullpen in any respect.
What’s great about this start is that instead of getting down and having to dig themselves out of a big hole with a hot second half. If they can maintain even just .500 baseball between now and the All Star break, they’ll be in prime position to make another run to the postseason. Perhaps this time though they won’t have to sweep the Rangers to get there. As much fun as that all was, a comfortable run to the playoffs might be nice. No matter what, this hot start has set the A’s up for a good 2013 season.