By Connor Buestad (email@example.com)
On Monday night in Oakland, the 2013 version of the Oakland Athletics will get back in the saddle and embark on another 162 game journey. They are coming off one of the most exciting seasons in franchise history in which they somehow stole the bacon from the Texas Rangers and Anaheim Angels to capture the American League West Championship Trophy. With last season’s dramatic run now in the rearview, Bob Melvin and his troops are set to open yet another chapter in A’s history when they host the visiting Mariners and 175 million dollar man, "King" Felix Hernandez.
Many would argue that the two spiritual leaders of last year’s magical club were Jonny Gomes and Brandon Inge. For better or worse, those two are now gone, Gomes to the Red Sox and Inge to the Pirates. The gentlemen replacing Gomes and Inge will be Chris Young and Jed Lowrie. Young comes over from the Diamondbacks and gives the A’s another athlete in an already deep outfield. A seven year vet in the big leagues, Young is a proven threat to steal bases as well as hit his share of longballs.
Lowrie, meanwhile, comes to the A’s from the Houston Astros where he hit 16 homers last year. Before that Lowrie performed admirably in the pressure cooker that is Boston. The shortstop’s presence is especially welcome in Oakland when one considers the struggles Japanese import Hiro Nakajima has shown on American soil.
Despite his uncanny ability to charm Billy Beane in his welcoming press conference in Oakland, not to mention his unabashed love for In-N-Out Burger, Nakajima's performance in the Cactus League left much to be desired. Those hoping Ichiro 2.0 would be arriving in Oakland have been let down thus far, judging by Hiro’s sub .150 Spring batting average and disappointing defense at shortstop.
Of course, the argument could very well be made that Hiro just needs some time in the States to get his feet wet. Hopefully this turns out to be the case. As for now, he is starting the regular season on the Disabled List with a faulty hamstring.
Eric Sogard on the other hand, was scorching hot during the spring season. In 46 at bats, the unassuming Arizona State product tallied 23 hits. Hitting coach Chili Davis was even rumored to have politely asked Sogard to save some singles for the games that count. Nevertheless, he has hit himself into the A’s starting lineup and that’s where he shall remain until he starts to cool off.
The Buster Olneys and Tim Kurkjians of the world have been raving about the 2013 Athletics' depth and rightfully so. An everyday outfielder on most big league teams, Young will start the year on the bench to give way to the likes of Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick. Pound for pound, the A’s don’t stack up to the Anaheim Angels of the world with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Erik Aybar, and Josh Hamilton, but if they can hang their hat on a competitive advantage as they enter 2013, it would most definitely be depth.
On the hill, the A’s will once again feature an uber young, albeit talented group of pitchers. At one point last year, down the stretch mind you, the A’s were trotting out a five man pitching rotation of all rookies. One would think a year of experience could only help this youthful bunch.
Atop the rotation will be Brett Anderson. The laid back lefty proved last year that he has a penchant for pitching in big games, even despite coming back from Tommy John Surgery. Behind him will be the electric right hander Jarrod Parker, as well as Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin. And don’t let us forget about Bartolo Colon. The well fed right hander who was popped for PED’s last year will be serving a suspension to begin the year, but he will be thrown into the fire upon his return. Perhaps the biggest question mark involving the A’s pitching staff is whether Grant Balfour will be able to avoid injury following a stressful workload in 2012. The Australian’s health will be paramount to the A’s success in tight AL west contests down the stretch.
It’s not every year that Billy Beane is afforded the opportunity to present A’s supporters with a legitimately competitive team who are in “win-now” mode with no thoughts of rebuilding. With Billy in the front office and Bob Melvin on the dugout steps, there is no reason to belive the A’s can’t once again defy the odds and repeat as AL West Champs. Chapter 1 of a 162 page book will be played out tomorrow in Oakland. Buy the ticket and take the ride...