The time is almost here, Monday night, March 31st at the O.co Coliseum in Oakland, the two-time defending AL West Champions take to the field to begin defending their crown. It has been an interesting offseason for the Athletics, many new faces will don the green and gold, and many fan favorites will be returning to the East Bay. The AL West has gotten stronger in many ways, but will it be enough for a rival squad to take down the A’s, I put forth a few burning questions to the rest of the Swingin’ A’s staff to see how they all believe this season will play out.
I asked each writer to address these five questions:
2. Who’s return to form is more crucial for the A’s in 2014, Josh Reddick or Yoenis Cespedes?
3. If the A’s fail to meet expectations, it will likely be due to a disappointing season from…
4. What constitutes a successful 2014 season for the A’s?
5. What will their record be, and in what place will they finish? How about the rest of the division?
Sean Davis, Staff Writer
1. Dan Straily, he’s shown signs off the brilliance that made him an untouchable trade chip a couple years ago. He’s been inconsistent, but he is learning how to pitch at the big league level. The strikeout rate may not be as astronimical as it was in the minor leagues in 2012, but there is no doubt the stuff is legit. Look for him to cut down the walks some, and help cushion the blow of losing Jarrod Parker for the season.
2. The A’s have proven they can win while Josh Reddick struggles, he’s done it for the last 1 1/2 seasons. Cespedes is crucial to this team’s success though. Even a down season for him, as 2013 was, his presence in the lineup proved critical to the success of the team. He’s talked a lot about shortening his swing, but at the point it’s been all lip service. If he takes the next step, and meets the expectations that surrounded him after his rookie year, the A’s will have a great chance to win their third straight division title.
3. Sonny Gray. It may seem harsh to pin the hopes of the entire season on him, but in a way he brought it upon himself. Gray stepped up in a huge way down the stretch and into the postseason for the A’s, and with the loss of Parker he will be depended upon to be the ace of the staff in his first full season. Undoubtedly he’ll encounter his bumps in the road, but if he’s unable to recover from them, the Athletics may have a tough time reaching the postseason for a third straight season.
4. Prior to the injuries to Parker, as well as A.J. Griffin, my answer to this would have been winning the World Series, now I think the standards have been lowered somewhat. That doesn’t mean just getting to the ALDS and losing again will be acceptable, but perhaps managing to escape the first round of the playoffs could be considered a success now with the pitching staff as currently constituted.
5. I predict the A’s will return to postseason play, but just by the skin of their teeth. They’ll grab the second wild card spot with a 91-71 record. The Angels will take the division with a 93-69 record, followed by the A’s, then Texas at 87-75, Seattle at 77-85, and Houston at 60-102.
Rich Paloma, Staff Writer
1. Josh Donaldson will continue to produce, batting .300 AND WILL MAKE THE ALL-STAR TEAM for 2014 as well as being a serious Gold Glove candidate at the end of the season.
2. While Josh Reddick will be a viable candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, when he was hot, the A’s were able to ride Yoenis Cespedes’ coat tails for victories when A’s bats were cold. For that reason, it’s important to rebound to play to his potential at the plate.
3. Cespedes. His sub-Mendoza line performance this spring is not encouraging, and based on my above answer, if the A’s disappoint it will be due to a sub-par Cespedes plate performance. (However with the latest two arm injuries to Parker and Griffin, pitching health is a very close second)
4. Simple: Success – winning AL West, VERY successful is making it past the ALDS.
5. There’s no reason not to repeat again as AL West Champs with a record of 94-68, Texas 92-70, Los Angeles 86-76, Seattle 80-82, Houston 70-92.
Andrew Brown, Staff Writer
1. I think Derek Norris will have a breakout year offensively in 2014. He adjusted his swing and the results have been positive thus far in Spring Training. He will not be getting many at bats to start the season with John Jaso seeing the bulk of the time at starting catcher, but if he can produce early he can force Bob Melvin‘s hand.
2. Josh Reddick’s return will be much more critical to the A’s success in 2014. Cespedes in a down year still put up decent offensive numbers. Reddick on the other hand was an unfortunate black hole of offensive production in the 7 hole. If he can return to his 2012 form the A’s will be in great shape at the bottom of the lineup.
3. Sonny Gray. Gray is the most important player on the A’s currently considering he is filling in the shoes of Jarrod Parker and Bartolo Colon. Scott Kazmir will be a very important piece to the puzzle, but Gray will have to be in Cy Young form the whole season.
4. Even with the injuries sustained in Spring Training the A’s will have to get to the playoffs again and win their first round series, regardless of who it is against. Three straight years of making the playoffs and not winning is not good enough.
5. 1. A’s 94-68 2. Rangers 93-69 3. Angels 81-81 4. Mariners 80-82 5. Astros 75-87
Nick Avila, Staff Writer
1. The breakout player on the A’s this year will be… pitcher Dan Straily. 12-9 with a 3.96 earned run average least season; I see Straily taking a huge leap forward this year.
2. Oakland needs Yoenis Cespedes to have a bounce back season. His power was good last season, but the strikeouts and batting average need to improve.
3. The starting staff. I had some concerns before Jarrod Parker underwent Tommy John surgery. Now, it’s not the elephant in the room. Only one pitcher in the starting rotation, Scott Kazmir, has even had more than 47 starts in his career.
4. I don’t think the A’s can have a successful season if they don’t make playoffs and make it out of the first round. The A’s haven’t been to the American League Championship series since 2006, being ousted of the postseason by the Detroit Tigers three times in a row.
5. I see the A’s finishing 94-68, first place in the American League. You can have all the power in the world, but the A’s, with a boosted bullpen, still have the best staff in the division and that will propel them to the postseason. 2nd Texas Rangers 90-72, 3rd Los Angeles Angels 84-78, 4th Seattle Mariners 77-85, 5th Houston Astros 61-101.
Jason Burke, Staff Writer
1. I would like to say Brandon Moss, because he isn’t a household name, but he has already been putting up big numbers. Derek Norris is a guy that is still growing, and this could be the season he breaks out and becomes more of an every day player. Look for a .270, 15 HR, 70 RBI season from D-NO. Also, be on the lookout for Drew Pomeranz. His strikeout numbers were fantastic this spring, at almost 2 an inning. He could be a key component to the A’s bullpen later in the season.
2. I’d say Reddick’s is more likely, given the spring he has had, but Cespedes is more important to the club’s winning. Just look at how much more the A’s win with him in the lineup. The threat of Cespedes is far greater than the actual production of Reddick.
3. The entire bullpen. The rotation has suffered a setback due to injury, but the guys they have plugged in are capable of keeping the A’s in games. It will be up to the bullpen to stay fresh and seal the victories.
4. They have to make it to the ALCS. The A’s have already proven they can make the playoffs, now it’s time to make some noise in the playoffs. Yes, injuries will make this harder to achieve, but they have plenty of arms that can step up. Sonny Gray can keep the A’s in a game 5, but can they muster a run or two against another team’s ace?
5. The A’s will finish 1st at 92-70, Seattle 88-74, Angels 86-76, Rangers 81-81, Astros 64-98.
Devin Pangaro, Staff Writer
1. This sounds completely insane, but I’m going to go with Jesse Chavez. Thrust into the rotation after being nothing more than a bullpen afterthought last season, the 30-year old will finally have his time in the spotlight.
2. Josh Reddick has been a complete disaster for a year and half now. While Cespedes had his struggles, Reddick’s complete lack of plate discipline and inability to provide solid at-bats will not be tolerated for another year.
3. Scott Kazmir. With Kazmir set to follow Sonny Gray in the rotation there is little room for error in a suddenly suspect rotation. If the southpaw reverts back to his difficulties in Anaheim, the Athletics are in major trouble.
4. As enjoyable as the last two seasons have been, it’s time for the A’s to reach the previously unreachable. They have to prove they can turn it up another notch in October, and win that elusive game that sends them into the ALCS. Accept no substitutions.
5. Oakland Athletics 96-66, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 90-72, Texas Rangers 86-76, Seattle Mariners 80-82, Houston Astros 67-95.