A wild 2012 Major League Baseball season proved that money doesn’t buy postseason berths. While three of the four teams with the highest payrolls in baseball were pulling out their golf clubs when the calendar flipped to October, the Oakland Athletics, with the lowest payroll in the league, were busy gearing up for some postseason baseball.
Even though the A’s were ousted in five games in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual-AL Champion Detroit Tigers, the 2012 season is still one that Oakland fans will never forget. Trailing the division-leading Texas Rangers by four games with a mere six contests to play, the A’s ripped off six straight wins, including a season-ending sweep over the stunned Rangers, to snatch away the AL West crown.
With the Angels further improving their already-star-studded lineup in the offseason, it may be difficult for the A’s to repeat as AL West Champs in 2013. However, this team has shown that it doesn’t mind coming into the season as an underdog one bit.
Oakland Athletics Pitching
Before the 2012 season began, a quick glance at Oakland’s pitching staff wasn’t going to strike any fear into the hearts of opposing hitters. However, thanks to some major contributions from a slew of talented rookies, the A’s staff took everyone by surprise a season ago as they posted the second-best ERA and opponents’ batting average in the American League. As long as these pitchers can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, the Athletics’ staff has a chance to be even better in 2013.
A’s Starting Rotation
After an injury-riddled season last year, the A’s are glad to have a healthy Brett Anderson back in the fold in 2013. After missing more than half of the 2012 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, the southpaw went 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA in six starts before suffering a season-ending oblique injury in September. Now that he is back to full strength, A’s manager Bob Melvin says that he will send Anderson to the mound on Opening Day.
Heading into late August, the fact that RHP Bartolo Colon possessed his best ERA in 10 years almost seemed too good to be true. As it turned out, it was indeed. Colon, the 15-year veteran, was handed a 50-game suspension after being caught using performance-enhancing drugs. The suspension interrupted a season in which Colon was 10-9 with a 3.43 ERA. However, the A’s decided to bring back Colon for another year, so the 39-year-old will slide back into the rotation once the five games remaining on his suspension have expired.
RHP Jarrod Parker, the ninth overall pick in the draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks back in 2007, shined on the big league stage a season ago and is projected to be Oakland’s number-three starter. As a rookie, Parker went 13-8 last year while recording a 3.47 ERA.
Next in line in the A’s starting rotation is expected to be LHP Tommy Milone. Just like Parker, Milone posted a team-high 13 wins in his first major league season, although he’ll be looking to improve on his 3.74 ERA from his rookie campaign.
Likely to occupy the final slot of Oakland’s starting staff is RHP A.J. Griffin. After getting called up from the minors in May, Griffin stepped right in and put up the best numbers of any A’s starter in 2013. As a rookie, Griffin went 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in his 15 starts.
Oakland Athletic’s Bullpen
Not only do the A’s possess a solid starting rotation, but they can rely on the back end of their bullpen as well. Oakland is bringing back five relievers in 2013 that posted a sub-3.00 ERA a season ago.
After starting the 2012 season as the Athletics’ closer, RHP Grant Balfour struggled out of the gates and ceded the closer’s role to rookie Ryan Cook. However, after posting a 3.14 ERA before the All-Star break, Balfour was absolutely unhittable after the All-Star break and won back the closer’s job. In the second half of the season, opponents hit just .131 off of Balfour, and he nailed down all 17 of his save opportunities. However, the 35-year-old veteran is questionable for Opening Day after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last month.
It’s not often that a rookie pitcher steps onto the scene and posts a sub-1.00 WHIP but faces a demotion for his efforts. However, that is the situation that RHP Ryan Cook found himself in a year ago.
After starting off the 2012 season with 23 shutout innings, Cook was rewarded with the A’s closer’s gig and even a trip to the All-Star Game. The 25-year-old then hit a few midseason rough patches and ended up being relegated back to a set-up role, but nonetheless, Cook had an extremely successful rookie campaign. He finished the year with a 2.09 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 80 punchouts in 71 relief appearances, and he is expected to lock down the eighth inning in 2013.
Bob Melvin will also have a trustworthy left-hander to turn to in late-inning situations in Sean Doolittle. In his rookie season, Doolittle recorded a 3.04 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP, and he was a strikeout machine, fanning 60 batters in 47 innings of work. However, uncharacteristically for a southpaw, Doolittle shut down right-handed hitters to the tune of a .195 batting average but struggled against lefties, who hit .286 off of him.
In addition, RHP Pat Neshek (1.37 ERA in 24 appearances), LHP Jerry Blevins (2.48 ERA in 63 appearances), and LHP Jordan Norberto (2.77 ERA in 39 appearances) will all return to the Oakland bullpen after effective campaigns in 2012.
Oakland Athletics Hitting
There was no secret to the A’s success in 2013; they won games due to their dominance on the mound, not because of their prowess at the plate. Oakland ranked in the middle of the pack in the AL in runs scored but had the second-worst batting average in the league at .238. With no major changes being made to its lineup in the offseason, an inability to manufacture runs could be Oakland’s biggest roadblock in its attempt to make it back to the postseason in 2013.
Oakland A’s Infield
After collecting four hits combined in 2010 and 2011, Brandon Moss started out the 2012 season in the minors as well. However, after belting 15 home runs in 51 games with Triple-A Sacramento, Moss was given another chance at the big league level, and the first baseman took full advantage of it.
Playing in just 84 games with the A’s, Moss hit .291 with 21 homers and 52 RBIs and recorded an astounding .954 OPS, which was third-best in the American League. Although the left-hander displayed much more power against right-handed pitchers, he actually hit for a slightly higher average against lefties.
Unfortunately for A’s fans, their team is relatively devoid of talent at the other infield positions. At the hot corner, Josh Donaldson is expected to get the starting nod after an uninspiring performance in 2012 in which he hit .241 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs in 75 contests.
In the middle of the infield, newcomer Hiroyuki Nakajima will take over the duties at shortstop. In his 11 seasons in Japan, Nakajima hit .302 and averaged about 14 home runs, 60 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases per season. The A’s signed him to two-year, $6.5 million deal.
Over at second base, players such as Jed Lowrie, Jemile Weeks, Adam Rosales, and Scott Sizemore are expected to battle it out for the starting job. Lowrie had the best numbers of the group in 2012, hitting .244 with 16 round-trippers and 42 RBIs as a member of the Houston Astros.
New addition John Jaso will take over behind the plate for the Athletics in 2013 after he hit a career-best .276 with 10 home runs and 50 RBIs with the Seattle Mariners last season.
Oakland A’s Outfield
Oakland will count on its outfield for the majority of its offensive production in 2013, and it all starts with “The Cuban Missile” in left field. After signing Yoenis Cespedes to four-year, $36 million deal prior to the 2012 season, the A’s highest-paid player proved his worth in his first year in the majors, hitting .292 with 23 home runs and 82 RBIs.
In centerfield, leadoff hitter Coco Crisp will be setting the tone for the A’s offense once again in 2013. The 11-year veteran hit only .259 last year but was successful on 39 of his 43 stolen base attempts and tripled seven times. If Crisp struggles at all, Melvin could choose to turn to former Diamondbacks’ outfielder Chris Young. However, Young batted just .231 with Arizona last year.
Josh Reddick will return as the Athletics’ right fielder after having a breakout year in 2012. A season ago, Reddick posted a .242 batting average but recorded a career-best 32 homers and 85 RBIs.
After a mediocre season in which he hit .240, connected on 14 long balls, and drove home 52 runs, Seth Smith will once again serve as Oakland’s DH in 2013.
Oakland Athletics Prediction
A year ago, nobody gave the Athletics a chance to compete for a playoff spot, but the success of rookies like Cespedes, Cook, Griffin, Parker, and Milone was enough to prove all of the experts wrong. Heading into the 2013 season, the general consensus seems to be that they are right on the bubble to earn a second straight playoff berth.
Personally, I feel that the A’s level of play will drop off a bit in 2013. After having a whole offseason to dissect the outings of Oakland’s rookie pitchers, I think that the A’s opponents will have more success against them in their second year. Also, it is still too early to tell whether players like Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick have really turned their careers around, or if 2012 was just a statistical anomaly.
Even if the A’s aren’t quite as good in 2013 as they were a year ago, that doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to compete for a playoff spot. The Angels lineup simply looks too powerful for the A’s to compete with this season, but Oakland should be in the thick of the Wild Card race all year long. The AL Central looks like it will only send one team to the playoffs, and in the AL East, age and injuries finally seem to be catching up with the Yankees, and it seems highly unlikely that the Orioles can post another even run differential this year and still finish well above .500.
I think the ex-factor for the Athletics could be the addition of the Astros into the AL West. This softens the schedule for everyone in the division, and I think it will be enough for the A’s to notch 90 wins and sneak into the last Wild Card spot.
Oakland Athletics Tickets
Although O.co Coliseum is known for having many large blocks of empty seats, the A’s had tremendous fan support down the stretch last season, and they are looking to continue that momentum into 2013 as they search for their second straight trip to the postseason. For fans looking for the best deals on Athletics tickets, the best place to go is a free-to-use ticket-comparison site by the name of Whiztix.com. Whiztix compiles the listings from multiple ticket-selling websites and displays them all in one place, helping A’s fans find quality seats for a very reasonable price all season long.
Bradford Conners is a student at Penn State University and a writing intern for Whiztix.com. Whiztix.com is a free to use ticket search engine which compiles results from all the best and reliable websites on the resale market in one place. The price they show includes the transaction costs for the marketplaces they search through, so what you see is what you’ll wind up paying. This is a pretty useful tool for finding the best deals, or the cheapest tickets on the web.