MLB In Full Bloom - Athletics Preview - 3/24/2014

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7– Number of days until Opening Day

101,396– Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday

Oakland Athletics Preview

After five straight seasons without a playoff berth, the 2012 Oakland Athletics surprised nearly everyone and made a historic comeback to take the AL West championship on the last day of the regular season. They followed that up with an encore performance last season, winning 96 games and taking home their second straight AL West title. Unfortunately for the A's, both of those seasons ended with a loss in Game 5 of the ALDS to the Tigers. General Manager Billy Beane has kept his nucleus mostly intact but still done some of his customary roster shuffling. Will this be enough to finally get his World Series ring?

Key Additions: Jim Johnson, Scott Kazmir, Eric O'Flaherty, Luke Gregerson, Drew Pomeranz, Craig Gentry, Nick Punto

Key Departures: Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour, Seth Smith, Jeremy Blevins, Brett Anderson

OFFENSE: The Athletics get contributions from most of the hitters in the lineup. They do lack one thing that some of the other competitors for the American League crown have and that is one power bat that pitchers have to plan for each day. This may not be a bad thing, as there could be as many as three guys in the Athletics lineup that could hit over 30 home runs. Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, and Brandon Moss could all hit 30 homers this year. Moss came out of nowhere to be a very good player for the Athletics the past two years. The ugly thing for Moss is that he does not have a ton of patience at the plate, which held him up in his pursuit of a major league job. Josh Donaldson did not come out of nowhere entirely during the 2013 season, he was a first round pick in the 2007, but no one could have reasonably predicted that he would be as successful as he was in only his second full year in the majors. The Athletics have a solid lineup that will produce runs.

STARTING PITCHING: The A's did lose Bartolo Colon in free agency and Jarrod Parker recently underwent his second career Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire 2014 season as a result. A.J. Griffin was diagnosed with elbow tendinitis during spring training and is currently shut down. On the surface it may appear the Athletics starting pitching will struggle this year, but Griffin should return in April and this rotation is talented. Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, and Griffin will most likely be the core this year. But, there are also a few other options, with Tommy Milone leads the pack Drew Pomeranz and Josh Lindblom could also figure in at some point.
BULLPEN: The A's bullpen ranked sixth in the majors last season in ERA (3.22) and Billy Beane made it even stronger this offseason. Beane added Jim Johnson to replace Grant Balfour, along with Luke Gregerson, Ryan Cook, and Eric O'Flaherty (Tommy John surgery last May). The strength of the starting pitching should make this bullpen deep and it could be the best bullpen in baseball. Johnson comes over to the Bay Area after posting an MLB-leading 101 saves over the past two seasons in Baltimore. While Johnson remains young enough to stave off a decline in production, another 50-save season might be too much to ask. While the A's are better than the Orioles, Johnson topping out just above 35 saves seems like a better projection for a closer on a new team.

2014 Prediction: The American League West could be a pretty competitive division. However, the Angels, Rangers and Mariners all have far more questions to answer than the A's. While some may have thought the 2012 division title was a fluke, but last season's A's should have more than proven this group is legitimate. The Athletics have young starting pitchers that could struggle, the offense not performing consistently well due to a low batting average and high strikeouts, Johnson blowing too many games or simply regressing as the rest of the division improves. However, the Athletics will be the most consistent team and win their third-straight AL West championship.

Final Record: 89-73 (First Place AL West)