The Oakland Athletics, the reigning 2012 AL West Champions, the team that no one thought could contend last year that had expectations for success in 2013 has now played through roughly 1/4 of the regular season. It has already been a bit of an up and down affair. They started off against Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and the offense was completely negated as they dropped the first two games of the season. Then they got hot, really hot. In the blink of an eye the A’s had jumped out to the best record in the American League at 12-4. They fattened up against the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Angels. Then came the Detroit Tigers, and things started to change. The A’s lost the series and from that point they began to wobble.
Road trips to the east coast proved difficult, lost series and sweeps against AL East opponents the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays brought the team back to Earth with a thud. The struggles have continued and now the team sits at 20-22, the low watermark of the season, and finds themselves 7.5 games back of the Texas Rangers who just took two out of three in Oakland.
There are some pretty clear reasons why the team was where it was, and is where it is.
The pitching staff has been a disappointment overall. Thought to be the strength of this team, the starting pitching has taken its lumps. Brett Anderson can’t stay healthy, Jarrod Parker has a 6.86 ERA, and Dan Straily can’t seem to convert his minor league success to the major leagues. Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin have been the strongest starters, both with ERA’s in the 3′s, and Bartolo Colon has been essentially the same pitcher he was in 2012. If the A’s wish to get back into the race, Anderson and Parker will have to be at the forefront of the charge. If Milone and Griffin are going to be called upon to pitch like aces, the team will likely fall short of their goals in 2013.
The injury bug has been especially cruel to the Athletics so far. It was presumed before the season began that Bob Melvin would have trouble finding playing time for all 5 of his outfielders. Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, and Josh Reddick were the starting three, with Chris Young and Seth Smith filling in the gaps and filling the DH spot. At this point, Josh Reddick is on the DL and may not be back for a while, Chris Young is hopefully about to be activated, and Coco Crisp just returned from the DL on Wednesday. Yoenis Cespedes served his time on the DL too with a hand injury. Factor in the aforementioned health problems of Brett Anderson and it’s pretty easy to see why this team has fallen so far in such a short amount of time. Players like Michael Taylor and Luke Montz are getting more playing time than they should on a team that is supposed to contend, and the team simply cannot win that way.
Perhaps the biggest revelation has been the emergence of Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss as established middle of the order contributors. Donaldson, the most emphatic of the two has posted an impressive .316/.390/.520 line with 5 home runs, 14 doubles, and a team leading 25 RBI. Moss, while not quite as eye popping has posted a .252/.354/.433 line with 6 home runs and 22 RBI. There were questions as to whether those two would be able to repeat their breakout performances from 2012, and it appears as if both of them are giving us a firm yes.
The late acquistion of Jed Lowrie has paid significant dividends in the early going. Much like the outfield the middle infield was expected to be clogged with talent. Injuries during spring weeded out the possiblities for the A’s. The hot spring for Eric Sogard made the second base job his, but Lowrie’s hot spring solidified himself as the A’s everyday shortstop. He has rewarded that decision with a .399/.383/.448 line with 3 home runs, and 14 doubles to go along with 19 RBI. His defense is a little bit questionable, but he’s made up for it with his bat. In the absence of a healthy and productive Josh Reddick in the lineup, Lowrie has given the A’s a viable option to hit ahead of Yoenis Cespedes.
If the A’s want to right the ship, they need to get as many important players back as possible, and keep them healthy. Yoenis Cespedes needs to get hot, red hot like we all know he is capable of. The pitching staff needs to learn once again how to live up to their potential. Ryan Cook needs to stop giving us ulcers during his innings. Sean Doolittle needs to keep doing exactly what he’s doing. The A’s simply may need to recapture just a little bit of that magic that propelled them to the playoffs in 2012. It’s still early enough to get things going the right way, but it won’t be early for long.