Athletics

2019 A's Projections: Can J.B. Wendelken produce with bigger workload?

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2019 A's Projections: Can J.B. Wendelken produce with bigger workload?

Editor's note: For the past few weeks, NBC Sports California has been analyzing a different A's player each day to project their numbers for next season.

J.B. Wendelken was arguably the most pleasant surprise on the entire A's roster last season.

The 25-year-old began the year in Triple-A after missing the 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery. When he was called up to the big leagues, he dominated hitters in his limited opportunities, allowing just one run and eight hits in 16 2/3 innings, good for a 0.54 ERA.

Wendelken relies on his plus fastball, throwing it 61 percent of the time last season, according to FanGraphs. He mixes in a curveball and changeup to keep hitters off balance. Last year he struck out 14 and walked five in his 16 2/3 innings of work.

[RELATED: Yusmeiro Petit's projected 2019 numbers]

Wendelken performed so well, he even made the A's 25-man roster for the AL Wild Card Game against the Yankees. He figures to have an expanded role this season as a setup man for Blake Treinen, joining Lou Trivino, Joakim Soria, Fernando Rodney, and Ryan Buchter in that role.

Baseball Reference projects Wendelken to go 2-1 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 33 innings next season. They predict him to strike out 32 and walk 12.

We expect Wendelken to pitch significantly more innings and perform better than those projections. The A's will rely heavily on their bullpen once again and Wendelken should be a primary option in the sixth and seventh innings.

Projection: 4-2, 2.67 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 54 K, 17 BB, 51 IP

A's starters are struggling vs. elite teams, and it could cost them

A's starters are struggling vs. elite teams, and it could cost them

Through all the injuries, suspensions, and question marks, the A's starting rotation has actually performed relatively well this season.

Oakland's starters have compiled a 4.17 ERA, 12th-best in the majors and sixth in the American League. Mike Fiers, Brett Anderson, and Chris Bassitt all own earned run averages under four, while Daniel Mengden's is under five.

Those numbers would suggest that the unit is, at the very least, serviceable. However, that hasn't been the case against the league's better teams.

Just look at Mengden and Homer Bailey's last two starts. Mengden limited the last-place Mariners to one run on four hits in seven innings last Tuesday. But in his next start, the first-place Twins knocked him around for four earned runs on six hits in just 3 1/3 innings.

Bailey's Oakland debut also came against the Mariners, and it went well. The right-hander allowed just two runs in six innings, earning the victory. On Monday night in Houston, however, Bailey surrendered nine runs in two innings.

For the season, Bailey is 4-1 with a 3.91 ERA when facing opponents under .500. Against teams that are .500 or better, he is just 4-6 with a 6.75 ERA. Mengden's numbers are similar. Against sub-.500 clubs, the right-hander is 3-0 with a sparkling 2.31 ERA. However, against winning squads, Mengden is 1-2 with a 6.67 ERA.

Bassitt has experienced the same type of success against losing teams, posting a 3.28 ERA. But against plus-.500 opponents, his ERA shoots up to 4.81.

Fiers and Anderson have been the exceptions in the A's rotation. Not surprisingly, they have been Oakland's only two consistent starters throughout the season, not including the suspended Frankie Montas.

Fiers is 4-2 with a 3.52 ERA against losing teams and 5-1 with a 3.74 ERA against winning squads. Anderson is 5-3 with a 3.88 ERA against sub-.500 opponents and 4-2 with a 3.77 ERA against plus-.500 clubs.

[RELATED: Houston makes statement with 11-1 win]

Over the next month, the A's will face an extremely challenging schedule. Including the current series against Houston, nine of Oakland's next 10 opponents currently own a record of .500 or better.

Fiers and Anderson have proven capable of succeeding against the league's best. Now it's Bassitt, Mengden, and Bailey's turn to step up against tougher competition.
 

Astros issue statement in rout vs. A's that AL West belongs to Houston

Astros issue statement in rout vs. A's that AL West belongs to Houston

Just five days ago, the A's pulled within 4 1/2 games of the Astros for first place in the AL West. All of a sudden, there were murmurs around the league of a legitimate pennant race out west.

Houston sure silenced those talks in a hurry. The Astros won their sixth game in a row Monday night, obliterating the A's, 11-1, to push their division lead back to 7 1/2 games.

This was more than just a victory. It was a statement. The Astros pulled out their megaphones and declared to the world that the AL West still runs through Houston, as it has the past two seasons.

Houston is now 8-1 against Oakland this season, with a run differential of 53-21. The A's have made plenty of strides the last two years, but clearly, they're not yet in the same class as the Astros.

The most glaring difference between the two clubs is obviously pitching. Despite losing Charlie Morton to free agency and Lance McCullers Jr. to injury, the Astros' starting rotation is far superior to Oakland's.

Houston features two legitimate aces in Justin Verlander and Monday's winning pitcher Gerrit Cole, as well as a strong number three starter in Wade Miley. The A's, on the other hand, have had to piece together a rotation which is comprised of too many inconsistent arms.

On Monday, Oakland's newest starter Homer Bailey got absolutely rocked, allowing nine runs in just two innings of work. That followed a subpar outing Sunday from Daniel Mengden, who only lasted 3 1/3 innings in Minnesota, giving up four runs.

Houston has multiple starters who can go out and win a game without much run support. The A's have to rely solely on their offense in many cases, simply asking their starters to keep them close.

[RELATED: Report: A's have inquired on trades for Stroman, Minor]

The Astros' bullpen has also been more effective than Oakland's this year, with Ryan Pressly, Will Harris, and Roberto Osuna all maintaining ERAs under 2.40. As good as Liam Hendriks has been for the A's this season, he and Yusmeiro Petit have really been the only reliable relievers in Oakland's bullpen. With Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, and Joakim Soria all having down-years, the A's pen has not been the strength they expected it to be.

Despite the A's mammoth struggles against the Astros this season, they still find themselves in great position to earn a wild-card bid for the second straight year. That's where the focus should be right now. Forget about the division -- that belongs to Houston.