Athletics

Athletics

The A’s entered spring training believing they could win a World Series. Hope springs eternal when MLB clubs start Cactus or Grapefruit League play. But the A’s confidence was rooted in reality. After back-to-back 97-win seasons with little turnover, that was both a fair and appropriate expectation.

The lineup was loaded with great defensive players who could mash. The starting rotation was deep and talented as any in baseball, with young phenoms fortifying a veteran corps that, when combined, has no discernable weakness.

The 2020 season was long ago identified as a push point, where a forward-thinking front office believed a combination of talent, depth and continuity would set the stage for a special season.

Those expectations shouldn’t change in this shortened season. Major League Baseball and its players union ironed out details of a 60-game campaign with unique rules designed in part to protect players working during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

We all know the A’s rarely start fast. Despite winning nearly 100 games two straight seasons, the A’s were the American League’s No. 7 seed after 60 games in 2019 and 2018. They wouldn’t have made the postseason either time.

They’re certainly capable of hitting an early stride. Starting a season in the summer months will help the ball jump out of Oakland Coliseum, and could provide the confidence required to get going early.

The A’s normally experience significant roster turnover while maintaining a lower-tier payroll and chemistry takes time and experience working together. That’s not the case this year, where they’re returning talent across the diamond.

 

Only two positions will be manned by new starters, with talented young catcher Sean Murphy as one of them. Second base is the only question mark, with established producers at every other spot. That includes stars Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien. Designated hitter Khris Davis has been too steady not to expect a rebound following a down year. Ramon Laureano leads a deep outfield with some position versatility.

A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo looked awesome this spring and are set to join the rotation full time. Innings restrictions won’t be as much of a factor in a shortened season, and baseball hitting pause in March allowed Puk’s sore shoulder to heal. They join Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas in the rotation, with Chris Bassitt as excellent injury protection.

The roster breakdown should prove the A’s are ready for anybody at any time, even in a tough AL West with the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Angels’ star power. The A’s will compete in the division, and are ranked high among a group of western teams from the American and National Leagues they’ll exclusively face in 2020 to avoid extensive travel.

The playoff format hasn’t been expressly stated at this point, but a normal 10-team playoff field would create a strong push for the AL West crown that has eluded them in recent seasons. That would avoid the one-game playoff that has been their downfall. An expanded field, which seems less likely at this point, would help the A’s get into a legitimate series and let a stout rotation do its thing.

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The best baseball teams generally win out over 162 games. A significantly shortened season increases the potential for chaos, which should scare some of the best teams. Each game is heightened in this format, and a prolonged slump could ruin things.

Potential pratfalls, including an injury that becomes season-ending due to the compacted time frame, shouldn’t change the A’s expectations. They’re still an excellent team that should battle for the AL crown. New rules haven’t changed their talent level or team chemistry built over the last few seasons, with Puk, Luzardo and Murphy offering a talent infusion.

The A’s are good. Like, really good.

Don’t drop the bar for this season. Not even an inch.