We are only a handful of games into Spring Training, and it is becoming clear who has a distinct advantage heading towards Opening Day. The A’s sit at 3-1 starting play today, and have received big contributions from players fighting for roster spots. The Texas Rangers are 1-2 and have scored less and allowed more runs than the Oakland Athletics. Yes, this is a small sample-size, but there are larger issues at work here.
Let’s start with the most obvious answer. The Rangers pitching staff is being decimated by injuries. Yu Darvish is healthy, but Derek Holland isn’t expected back until midseason and Matt Harrison has been sidelined with back issues. Harrison is expected to miss the start of the season, but should return shortly thereafter. If he misses any prolonged time, Tommy Hanson will take his spot in the rotation. The Tommy Hanson that wasn’t good enough to stick with the Angels and their terrible rotation. Granted, he missed some time last season, but he also posted an ERA as high as Joe Balnton‘s weight at 5.42 in 2013.
The A’s have a wealth of pitching. Jesse Chavez, vying for a bullpen roll, has been lights out in two starts (2-0) thus far. Scott Kazmir had a lot of life on his pitches yesterday in a side session. Sonny Gray is being Sonny Gray. The A’s have 8 pitchers that most A’s fans would feel comfortable with if they had to start a game. If you add in the talent of the A’s staff, with the pitcher-friendly Coliseum, it magnifies their bright spots.
The Rangers Ballpark (in Arlington) is notoriously hitter-friendly. They need their best pitchers on the hill, and right now they don’t have that.
The mindsets of the two teams is strikingly dissimilar too. The A’s have been striving to get better during the offseason. Sean Doolittle has been working on a new pitch or two, Yoenis Cespedes appears ready to truly break out, and Josh Reddick is returning to his 2012 form. Today, the Rangers welcome Super Bowl winning Quarterback, (Yes, football) Russell Wilson.
The A’s are focused and driven. The Rangers are content with previous results.
The Rangers added some big bats this offseason. The A’s added some arms to their bullpen. The A’s have also stepped up against the Rangers when they have needed to the past couple of seasons. It seems as though this has gotten into the heads of some of the players. Last season, Yu Darvish was getting knocked around one game, and became very animated on the mound with their pitching coach, Mike Maddux. Then there is the infamous Matt Garza. He was a hot-head to begin with, but when Eric Sogard bunted on him, he really lost it. The clubhouse dynamic seems to shift when they play the A’s, as if they are playing tight or worried. They don’t perform at their usual high level.
Baseball requires a player to have a short memory span, because the next day you’re at it again. The Rangers will still be good. They may even capture a Wild Card berth. But the AL West Championship belongs in Oakland.