Chris Bassitt diverted focus from home plate for a moment during an A’s intrasquad game to survey the defense behind him. Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien and Matt Olson were all at the ready. The outfielders covering grass behind them were all more than capable with the bat and the glove.
Seeing the personnel behind him in one quick scan inspired confidence that these A’s can handle anything, from a training-camp contest to a 60-game sprint of a season.
The A’s have long believed they could compete with anyone over 162 games. Despite being notoriously slow starters, Bassitt and the A’s are well equipped to handle this shortened 2020 campaign.
“All you have to do is look at our personnel,” Bassitt said. “It’s going to be hard to start off slow with the roster that we have. We can face any roster and possibly have an edge. … Not to be arrogant, the guys in our clubhouse are some of the best in the world. It’s going to be fun.”
Bassitt’s right. The A’s lineup is stacked, with power throughout. They have seven established starters, highly touted rookie catcher Sean Murphy and a group of second basemen who will rotate based on hot hands and matchups. They have one of the best defensive units. While the starting rotation has taken some body blows in camp, it’s still talented and tough.
All that’s vital to success, starting Friday night against the Los Angeles Angels. But Bassitt believes another A’s trait will be just as key to navigating this season well.
“This 60-game season is going to be a pressure cooker of what team has the best depth at every position,” he said. “Every game is almost a must-win. I know that should be a reality over 162 games but that’s just not the case. You need depth everywhere and thankfully we do. I think we’re built well for this. It’s going to be exciting for us but also a little nerve-wracking. Thankfully we have ‘BoMel’. I don’t know of anyone I want to lead us along the way than him.”
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A’s manager Bob Melvin is another key component to handling a whole lot of new. This season has unique rules and a completely different feel with 60 games in 66 days, with each contest counting 2.7 times as much. The three-time manager of the year -- with two wins as A’s skipper -- must be ready to adapt to new situations while trying to start well and keep his players fresh and focused.
“It’s going to be different than anything you’ve had to manage,” Melvin said. “We’ve had a lot of discussions amongst the coaching staff and the front office about how you handle things. It’s going to be more intuitive. Where we usually look at numbers and matchups in a 162-game season, this year there might be a bit more feel involved.”
Putting players in the right spot to succeed is important. So is the team’s psyche. Expectations are through the roof, with many believing the A’s are serious title contenders. A truly slow start could be a killer, even with an expanded playoff field that includes every second-place team and two more wild-card teams from each league. The team’s confidence isn’t shaken by recent stumbles out of the gates, or increasing pressure to meet high internal expectations.
“It’s the same as it was for a long season,” Semien said. “We have talent. We have the pitching to win right now. Everybody says that we never start hot and ask if we’re worried about that, but we always play well at this time of year. We’re already in the summer and we play well once it gets a little warmer.”
The A’s do play better in warmer months, when the ball travels farther at Oakland Coliseum. There’s plenty of offensive depth and pitching in the rotation and a 10-man bullpen to start the season.
There’s no doubt the A’s have great potential. Execution comes next. The A’s have to bring it every day and focus solely on wins starting Friday against the Angels.
“That’s the way we’re going to approach things,” designated hitter Khris Davis said. “Everything matters. Everything is intensified. Every game is like a playoff, meaning we have to win and produce.
“… It’s going to be interesting. We just have to stay healthy and play good baseball. I think we’re better than a lot of the teams out there. We have a good shot to do something.”