After dropping back-to-back Wild Card games in the past two seasons the Oakland Athletics’ win total is set at 33.5 games for 2020. You can never expect much from the Moneyball A’s in the off-season. But at some point, they have to make a big move when they’re this close. With one of the strongest staffs in the sport finally returning healthy along with top prospects on the horizon, Oakland could be in for a breakthrough this year.
A Healthy Sean Manaea
Sean Manaea: The southpaw pitcher who threw a no-hitter in 2018 against the eventual World Series Champion Boston Red Sox is too often forgotten. Rotator cuff tendinitis shut down that season early and led to arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder. After missing nearly all of 2019, the closest thing to an ace on this team will finally return to the diamond healthy. Although he got shelled in last year’s Wild Card game, Manaea has had plenty of time to rest his healing arm. A full season of him could finally be the difference between an AL West title instead of a Wild Card appearance.
The Return of Frankie Montas
Frankie Montas: The 27-year-old pitcher came onto the scene in 2019 pitching to a 9-2 record with a 2.70 ERA. However, the all-star-caliber season was cut short before the Midsummer Classic after Montas tested positive for Ostarine, a PED that suspended him 80 games. Looks like it’s time for Oakland to find out who the real Frankie Montas is when he returns in 2020.
Top Rookie Jesus Luzardo
Jesus Luzardo: As one of the favorites heading into the season for AL Rookie of the Year, the 12th-best prospect according to MLB.com seems entrenched in their Opening Day rotation. That is assuming he is ready to go by then after he recently tested positive for the coronavirus but is “feeling good” and “ready to get going”. As of now, he has yet to report to Summer Camp but can make Oakland’s rotation one of the best in baseball once he gets there.
Tony Kemp: Although second base was largely ignored in the off-season, the A’s did go out and trade with the Chicago Cubs for Kemp. It cost them practically nothing, which seemed like a typical Moneyball move for the club. The 28-year old veteran and the former top prospect will have another chance to prove himself as a possible everyday player.
Second Baseman: The Athletics failed to fill the one hole they had on their team. Instead, they went cheap with Tony Kemp to pair with a former top prospect. Franklin Barreto will factor into the equation with Kemp, but neither offer any sort of confidence. Oakland had the opportunity to improve their biggest position of need by spending a little bit of money on a guy like Cesar Hernandez or Starlin Castro. They failed to do so and they will likely pay for it in the near future.
A True Ace: Despite having one of the best top-to-bottom rotations in the game, Oakland lacks a bona fide ace. They lack a guy who gives you six-strong every time out which is why they’ve lost Wild Card games. On the bright side, they have plenty of young options who could evolve into this role. Manaea, Montas, and Luzardo all have what it takes to do so in the not so distant future. However, currently having Mike Fiers lined up as the Number One is less than ideal.
Blake Treinen: The bullpen has been the strong suit for Oakland the past few years, especially at the back end. This was thanks to Treinen who in 2018 put together one of the best seasons from a relief pitcher in recent memory. Pitching to a microscopic 0.78 ERA with 38 saves, he regressed in 2019 and the A’s let him walk. Somebody will have to step up in his absence and luckily they have plenty of options. Whether it be Liam Hendriks, Lou Trivino, or others, the unit will need to stay consistent as a whole.
Make or Break
Young Starting Pitchers
As mentioned, the success of this team could very well boil down to three names above all. Manaea, Montas, and Luzardo have the firepower at the top of the rotation to go up against nearly any staff. Rookie and third-ranked A’s prospect A.J. Puk could also provide a spark. However, all of their situations are volatile with a lot to be proven in 2020. Their seasons could play out in any variety of ways but two of the three will need to exceed expectations for Oakland to get in the playoffs.
Sean Murphy Arrives
Sean Murphy is the A’s second-best prospect and 33rd-best according to MLB.com. He looks to be the favorite to start behind the plate. Murphy is one of the rare elite catching prospects currently in the game, and many have been awaiting his arrival. He’ll look to fill a void that has typically been filled by a veteran in recent team history. The days of Kurt Suzuki, Stephen Vogt, and Jonathan Lucroy are over in Oakland. Finally, they have some youth potential at catcher but how ready he is remains to be seen.
The Tone Setters
The heart and soul of this team in recent memory has been their phenomenal defense at the key positions. Two players who speak to this are the quarterbacks of the diamond at shortstop and center field. Marcus Semien and Ramon Laureano not only bat at the top of the order but also have some of the best glove work in the game. For the A’s to exceed expectations these two will need to continue to build upon their improved offensive games.
The Matt Anchors
Of course, you can’t preview the A’s without mentioning the Matts. Two of the most under-appreciated stars in today’s game reside on the corners in Oakland. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson are both dark horse AL MVP candidates this season. If either player can get hot and approach 20-homer numbers along with their outstanding defensive metrics, hardware will follow. They are the anchors of this team no matter how one slices it, and the A’s will only go as far as they do.
Lineup with 60-Game Projections
According to Roto Champ
- Marcus Semien SS .268 BA, 9 HR, 29 RBI
- Ramon Laureano CF .267 BA, 9 HR, 26 RBI
- Matt Chapman 3B .249 BA, 13 HR, 33 RBI
- Matt Olson 1B .257 BA, 14 HR, 36 RBI
- Mark Canha LF .251 BA, 9 HR, 25 RBI
- Khris Davis DH .236 BA, 13 HR, 36 RBI
- Robbie Grossman RF .239 BA, 1 HR, 7 RBI
- Sean Murphy C .254 BA, 5 HR, 16 RBI
- Tony Kemp 2B .247 BA, 1 HR, 8 RBI
Rotation with 60-Game Projections
According to Roto Champ
- Mike Fiers RHP 4-4, 4.70 ERA, 51 K
- Sean Manaea LHP 4-3, 4.09 ERA, 48 K
- Frankie Montas RHP 4-3, 3.90 ERA, 59 K
- Jesus Luzardo LHP 4-3, 3.79 ERA, 59 K
- Chris Bassitt RHP 3-2, 4.09 ERA, 41 K
Houston Astros 7 @ Home, 3 Road
Los Angeles Angels 7 @ Home, 3 Road
Seattle Mariners 3 @ Home, 7 Road
Texas Rangers 3 @ Home, 7 Road
Arizona Diamondbacks 2 @ Home, 2 Road
Colorado Rockies 2 @ Home, 2 Road
Los Angeles Dodgers 3 Road
San Diego Padres 3 @ Home
San Francisco Giants 3 @ Home, 3 Road
Unfortunately, the Athletics suffer from the fact that they play in arguably the best division in baseball at the moment. After the Astros roller coaster of an off-season, the A’s will look to pounce on any possible missteps they might take in 2020. If somehow, some way they can claim their first AL West title since 2013, Oakland is built for a long playoff run. The issue is getting past the Wild Card game, because they have a deep roster that is built for a playoff series. They are one piece away but will management ever be willing to make that deadline move? A 60-game season can make some pretty crazy things happen, and Oakland could easily fall under this category.
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