The A’s will embark on their most unique season in franchise history Friday night.
While MLB navigates a pandemic, the A's will attempt to enter a World Series conversation that isn’t far-fetched, by any means.
Here are five questions that will affect their overall chances in 2020:
1. Did the slow offense in exhibition games mean anything?
Every A’s player will tell you how critical the start to their season is. For perspective, their first home series of four games against the Los Angeles Angels alone … equates to a whopping TEN percent of the entire schedule.
During their two exhibition games this week, the A's mustered up just four runs on six hits against the unassuming Giants. If there is one thing that could hinder Oakland out of the gates, it would be the lack of bats. Simultaneously, it also seems foolish to validate any takeaways from dual dress-rehearsals, which mostly were intended to simulate “new normals” of MLB.
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2. How adaptable can the A’s be?
A traditional season brings enough challenges with injuries, but this year every club has the priority concern of illness. Even for precautionary reasons, the A's could find themselves having to make last-minute decisions on how to proceed with their roster and lineups.
Fortunately for manager Bob Melvin, there’s no shortage of versatility with position players like Chad Pinder, Tony Kemp, and Mark Canha who could each find time in the outfield, or infield. Also, they’re (literally) in fine hands when it comes to pitching -- Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden already have the ability to fill spots in the rotation or eventually serve important roles in relief.
3. Where will MLB players be, mentally, approaching September?
Let’s not undermine the personal lives of athletes. Many of the A’s will be living separate from their families during the next few months, as the ultimate safety precaution. For new fathers like Canha, the distance already has proven to be a heavy weight on the heart, in addition to the daily stress of avoiding COVID-19, and oh yeah, trying to be really good at baseball.
By the end of August, we should have a great depiction of how sustainable an entire MLB season is. Not just for the logistics, but also the toll it’s taking on players.
4. How will the pitching balance play out?
Usually by late July, a few pitchers begin to experience the fatigue phenomenon known as “dead arm.” This year, the challenge for starters might not be over-use, but the inability to get stretched deep into games. The A's do have 10 relievers as part of the 30-man roster to begin the season.
How early will we see Melvin make his first calls to the bullpen? Conversely, if starters are regularly able to flirt with the 80-pitch mark in July, how will the entire bullpen stay fresh and get their proper work? Preferably the A’s would like to lean on starters much as possible, knowing their rotation is one of the best built in a long while.
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5. Which player will have a career season?
The premise of 60 games in 66 days does lend itself to one player starting hot, and staying that way start to finish. Having a season that stands out above any other. The A’s have multiple candidates in that category, and the top players to watch include: Ramon Laureano, Matt Olson, and Khris Davis.
But there also could be other pleasant surprises. Conversely, slumps won’t be as tolerable for contending teams. Even star players are put into the dilemma where time is of the essence, and there might not be the same opportunity of patience to work out of a rut, as usual.