At the beginning of 2012, the Oakland Athletics were picked to finish last in the AL West. As a rebuilding team with one of the game’s smallest payrolls, a division title seemed way out of the question.
But that is why you play the games on the field and not on paper.
The A’s stunned the baseball world by winning the AL West on the last day of the season in what was an improbable journey. However, the A’s miracle run came to an end after being ousted by the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS in five games.
It was a great story to follow all season long, but the A’s may be hard pressed to repeat last year’s success in 2013. “Moneyball, Part 2” worked with the 2012 team, but it may just be a one-hit wonder.
Now, the A’s likely won’t tank completely, since there are still plenty of traces from last year’s team. Maybe they can even compete for one of the league’s two wild card spots.
But the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (on paper, of course) are the heavy favorites in the division, especially after adding Josh Hamilton to team up with Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. Though the Texas Rangers lost some firepower, expect them to be right in the mix as well.
The A’s, meanwhile, lost three key players: Brandon McCarthy signed with the Diamondbacks, and Stephen Drew and last year’s emotional leader Jonny Gomes both signed with the Red Sox.
Oakland’s young pitching staff carried them down the stretch last year. Most games, an average fan would have no idea who was starting for the A’s, but that didn’t stop this young staff from producing.
Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin looked like seasoned veterans on the mound. But to expect a similar output from these youngsters would be difficult to rely on. Brett Anderson should be back healthy, and Bartolo Colon will return from his suspension, but still this rotation needs to be perfect, which is asking too much.
Offensively, the team signed Hiroyuki Nakajima to take over for Drew at shortstop. Very few Japanese position players have had success in the Major Leagues — with the exceptions being Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui — so Billy Beane is certainly taking a gamble on the 30-year-old.
The A’s still have more outfielders than they know what to do with. Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith will all be back, and former Diamondbacks center fielder Chris Young joins the fold. Beane though is reluctant to deal from this surplus.
Cespedes had a breakout rookie season with 23 home runs and 82 RBIs, while Reddick clubbed a team-leading 32 homers in his first extended big-league action. But can these two repeat their performances? We’ll see if opposing teams make the necessary adjustments.
Maybe the A’s have a little magic leftover from last season, but it would take another miracle run for the team to reach the postseason.