It’s a new year, people are celebrating 2014 and all it will bring. Something you can count on to happen in 2014 is for the Oakland A’s to win the AL West yet again. Somehow though, it seems as though most analysts and pundits are still stuck in 2013. Like last year, almost everyone is predicting for the Texas Rangers or even the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to win the West. It’s the same ol’ rhetoric; The big spending teams sign the big name players that are supposed to help catapult the team they signed with to First Place and deep into October. Last year that is exactly what was being said and this year it’s happening all over again. This time it’s with the Rangers signing Shin Soo-Choo and Prince Fielder. Here are 5 reasons why the Oakland A’s are still going to best the rest of the west and defend their title.
1. Sonny Gray will Be a Part of the Rotation the Entire Season
At the beginning of the season last year, Sonny Gray was pitching for the triple A Sacramento Rivercats. He didn’t debut at the major league level until right before the all-star break. Even then, it was just as a part of the bullpen. He made two appearances for a total of four masterful innings in which he didn’t allow anyone to score. As Bob Melvin said, it was just to get his feet wet and to observe how he would perform at the major league level. And boy, did Sonny come through. He impressed everybody so much that after the all-star break he was given a spot in the rotation to replace a struggling Tommy Milone.
Sonny Gray proved that he is an ace quality pitcher finishing with great numbers. He played in 12 games- started in 10- and finished the season a 2.67 ERA. Batters averaged for .214 against him and he walked 20. He struck out 67 in only 64 innings pitched. These numbers are impressive, yes. However, the most impressive feat that he accomplished happened in the ALDS.
He outdueled Justin Verlander in game 2. Justin Verlander! Keep in mind this was his rookie season and his first ever postseason start and he was able to shut out the potent Tigers line up for 8 entire innings. He didn’t get to experience the same success when they gave him the nod to pitch in a heartbreaking game 5. Verlander was able to break the hearts of A’s fans everywhere for the second straight year in a row. Still, this is a rookie and he still has a lot of years ahead and will only get better.
Now, in 2014, Sonny Gray will have a full season to pick up right where he left off. With his wicked curveball being among the best in baseball, Sonny Gray will be a key factor for Oakland to win a lot of games. If he can shut out teams like the Tigers and the Rangers, he can shut them down when he faces them in 2014.
2. The A’s Bullpen is Even More Stacked in 2014
This offseason, Billy Beane has been focusing a lot on the bullpen. He picked up a proven closer in Jim Johnson who leads the majors in saves the last two seasons combined with 101 saves. He also led the majors with the most blown saves, 9. However Jim Johnson is now pitching in a pitcher friendly ballpark at the O.co coliseum. This should work in his favor and we should see his numbers improve. Balfour Rage will be missed, but anybody who’s been an Oakland fan for a while now knows that saying goodbye to fan favorites is part of being an A’s fan.
Billy Beane also traded away Seth Smith for legitimate setup man Luke Gregerson who will also benefit from pitching in the O.co Coliseum. He along with Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook will be able to keep things under control in the late innings. With that trio in the bullpen there should always be at least one well rested setup man ready to go. There is also the pleasant surprise of Dan Otero who finished the season with a 1.38 ERA and no home runs allowed in 39 innings of work. Otero can also be trusted in whatever role Melvin chooses to entrust him with. All of these great pitchers along with Jesse Chavez should be able to surpass Oakland’s bullpen from 2013, which was a big asset and factor for Oakland winning the west in 2013. With an even better bullpen in 2014, they should be able to defend the AL West title.
3. Texas Offense Won’t Have a lot of Success Against Oakland’s Improved Pitching
Texas has spent a lot of money this offseason trying to form the best lineup in all of baseball. However, this will not help them win the AL West. Oakland pitching has faced these batters before. It doesn’t matter how many big name players a team has, because these Oakland pitchers have proven that they can strike anyone out (even Miguel Cabrera). Fielder has faced the A’s with the Tigers, and Oakland pitching has been able to keep him down for the most part. The only player on the Rangers roster that hasn’t seen much of the A’s pitching staff lately is Shin Soo-Choo, but It takes more than one player to win a baseball game, and Oakland has both the confidence and experience shutting these guys down.
The Rangers were able to beat the A’s more than they lost to them before the all-star break, but that was before Sonny Gray arrived in the majors and before Jarrod Parker improved tremendously. This offense will not be able to overcome Oakland’s overwhelming pitching staff in 2014.
4. Both the Rangers and Angels Don’t Have the Pitching to Win the West
Both the Rangers and the Angels have a great ace and a great pitcher in the second spot of the rotation. Texas has ace Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. The angels have Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. However, Both teams have holes in the rest of the rotation. Pitching was a big reason the Angels underperformed in 2013 and the Rangers had a lot of guys switching from the rotation to the bullpen and from the bullpen to the rotation. Both may have big names in the lineup and a stacked offense, but if there’s anything we’ve learned from Oakland the past two years, it’s that a great pitching staff will win you more games than an intimidating lineup.
5. The Texas Rangers will choke yet again
We see it happen every year. Texas gets close, but can’t finish. Before Oakland was as good as they are now and before the Angels had the offensive power they have now, Texas was able to win the division. But now that Oakland is a much more talented team, they can’t go as far as they did in the previous years. For some reason, Texas always seems to lose it down the home stretch. Expect it to happen again. This reason is just for us Oakland fans to have a good laugh, but it still seems like a very possible thing to happen. If it’s happened two years in a row, why not a third?
So with the rosters the way they are now, it’s easy to speculate that the Oakland Athletics will be able to repeat what they’ve done the past two years, win the west. With an excellent starting rotation and an offense that ranked 4th in runs scored last season, we will be seeing the A’s celebrate a 3rd straight AL West title.