Spring Training is Here!

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In case you were on another planet this weekend, or just mesmerized from the Oscars, baseball returned to our world this past weekend. It is just Spring Training, but soon enough the birds will be chirping, hot dogs will be on the grill, and yes baseball season will be here.

Enough about me, the new season is coming, prepare yourself! Sounds more like a tagline for Game of Thrones, which ironically starts the same night as the new MLB season. So maybe I’ll have to addd some random Game of Thrones references in here. Who knows. But Major League Baseball is coming. Prepare yourself.

While Hurricane Sandy took the focus of the World Series away, I still will not forget the way the season played out, mostly with Oakland’s incredible run to the AL West Championship. If you had asked me this time last year where I believed the A’s would finish last season, I probably would have said something along the lines of 3rd place, but definitely under .500. They had just traded most of the major talent on the roster or allowed others to leave via free agency. In return, they brought back a haul of talented prospects to pair with some key veterans. The outlook coming into the season was grim along with the knowledge that it had been 5 years since the A’s made the playoffs. There was not much optimism going forward, but somehow, someway they were able to put it all together. Culminating with this..

Followed then by this 2 days later…

No words that can describe the thrill ride I went on the last season. 13 games back in June, 5 games back with 9 to play (first team to ever win a division by doing so) and somehow they overcame a early 5 run deficit in the deciding 162nd game to win the division. Seriously I wish I was making this up. All in all, last season was one of the most amazing I have seen as an A’s fan, EVER. I still get goosebumps and chills watching videos from last year and will probably continue to do so for some time. It was a little heartbreaking that the A’s  lost in 5 games to the Tigers (again), but they got there with an unproven team that many wrote off at the beginning of the season.

Anyways, sticking to the baseball side of things, because I can honestly blab on and on about the division championship run, this season should be good!  The A’s come into this season as the defending American League West Champs. Returning the majority of a young, talented roster which should only get better.

Gone is Cliff Pennington and prospect Yordy Cabrera and in return, the A’s created even more of a logjam in the outfield by acquiring Chris Young. To fill the void at shortstop, the A’s signed Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. The A’s released George Kottaras, half of the catching platoon from the end of last season, and acquired John Jaso in a 3 team deal. In that deal, the A’s sent A.J. Cole back to Washington. Most recently, the A’s traded Chris Carter, Brad Peacock, and Max Stassi to new division rival Houston for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez. To free agency, they lost Brandon McCarthy, Stephen Drew and Jonny Gomes, all who played an integral part to the team during the 2nd half of last season.

With the addition of Houston to the division, the AL west becomes a 5 team division, but that shouldn’t hurt the A’s chances at returning to the postseason. The young pitching staff pitched like veterans down the stretch, and they should only get better. Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker should have impressive sophomore seasons, falling in line behind staff ace Brett Anderson. A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and recently suspended Bartolo Colo will fight out for the remaining 2 spots in what I believe is the best rotation in the American League West. Couple that with a solid back end of the bullpen and the three headed tandem of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, and Grant Balfour, the A’s are set.

The biggest question mark, can the A’s score? They led all of baseball in the second half by pounding a bunch of homeruns, but also racked up an American League record in strikeouts. While a .238 batting average sounds terrible, this team managed to manufacture runs. Hitting 32 triples, stealing bases and in general playing a different brand of baseball than we are accustomed to seeing for the last 15 years or so. Gone are the days of just getting on base. This team is built to survive with speed, power and dominant pitching.

Team Preview:

Projected Lineup:

C: John Jaso/Derek Norris

1B: Brandon Moss

2B: Scott Sizemore

3B: Josh Donaldson

SS: Hiroyuki Nakajima

OF: Yoenis Cespedes/Coco Crisp/Josh Reddick/Chris Young

DH: Seth Smith

Util: Jed Lowrie/Jemile Weeks/Adam Rosales

The A’s purged a few pieces this offseason and strengthed others. They added depth to the middle of the infield, which they got no production out of last season. Also added Chris Young to the outfield mix, to help keep Cespedes and Crisp healthy throughout the season. The addition of John Jaso should be key with not just the pitching staff, but production from that position. Oakland’s offense should be better this season.

Projected Starting Rotation:

1. Brett Anderson

2. Bartolo Colon

3. Jarrod Parker

4. Tommy Milone

5. A.J. Griffin

The A’s pitching staff is deep and talented. Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone both made huge strides forward in their rookie seasons, a relief for A’s fans considering those two were filling the shoes of Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill. Brett Anderson returned late last season with impressive results and this year will becoming the ace this staff was missing all last season. Look to see the A’s dominate this season with all the rookies now becoming sophomores with playoff experience under their belts.

Bullpen:

Closer: Gran Balfour

Set-Up: Ryan Cook & Sean Doolittle

The Rest: Dan Straily, Jerry Blevins, Jordan Norberto, Pat Neshek, Travis Blackley, Evan Scribner, Pedro Figueroa, Evan Scribner

The Bullpen is solid. I can honestly put any adjective here and it will definitely fit. Dan Straily and Travis Blackley both will eat innings in long relief and spot starts. The middle of the bullpen has a nice mix of right handers and left handers, all with some sort of quirk. Followed by the intense duo of Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle. Then we can all Balfour Rage in the 9th. It is a unique bunch, but all in common with the fact of being part of baseball’s elite as a whole. Part of what got the A’s as far as they did last year was their bullpen, this year expect them to continue that trend.

Overall:

The A’s made some key additions to the team this offseason. It’s going to be tough in the American League West with Josh Hamilton going to the Angels, but their pitching can’t matchup with Oakland’s. For that matter, nobody in this division can matchup with Oakland’s staff. Adding Houston to the mix may dilute the competition in the division a little bit, but shouldn’t hurt Oakland’s chances. I am predicting the A’s will return to the postseason, winning the division again but this time over the Angels. Hopefully equally their 94-68 record from a year ago. I think this team is better on paper than the 2012 A’s, but it will be hard to recapture the magic that team created. Can’t wait for the season to start.

Side note. We all know Yoenis Cespedes is a beast, as we all found out from his showcase video. But last week he told manager Bob Melvin he could hit a homerun off him with a batting weight still on his bat. While the video may not show the actual homerun, the way he is prancing around the batter’s box, I’m sure it was a bomb. Here is the link.

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