The Athletics will enter the new season fresh off back-to-back 97-win performances, and considering the chaos atop their division, they’ll be a popular choice to win the American League West. The Astros have taken it three years in a row – all seasons with 100-plus victories – but there’s serious skepticism that they’ll reign again in 2020. They’ve been dealing with the aftermath of a sign-stealing scandal that cost them their previous leadership and has dominated baseball headlines over the past several weeks. Oh, and they lost all-world right-hander Gerrit Cole to the Yankees in free agency.
Even with the mess it has created for itself, Houston remains an immensely talented team. But it may have a real challenger in Oakland, which overcame a slew of notable injuries in each of the previous two seasons on the way to playoff berths. The Athletics, like the Astros, haven’t been all that aggressive in upgrading their roster since last season concluded, so the A’s will go into the campaign with a roster that’s similar to the prior version.
The A’s position player group continues to brig an amazing left side of the infield (third baseman Matt Chapman and shortstop Marcus Semien), a high-quality first baseman (Matt Olson), a pair of underrated outfielders (Ramon Laureano and Mark Canha) and a couple bounce-back candidates (designated hitter Khris Davis and outfielder Stephen Piscotty) to the table. Likewise, Oakland’s pitching staff is rife with potential. Injuries and suspensions ravaged the unit last year, yet A’s hurlers still found a way to record the majors’ sixth-best ERA and eighth-highest fWAR. They’re now slated to get full seasons from left-hander Sean Manaea (injuries held him to five starts in 2019), breakout righty Frankie Montas (a PED ban limited him to 16 starts) and perhaps Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk. Two of the most talented young pitchers in the game, Luzardo and Puk missed almost all of last year as a result of injuries.
The A’s rotation, which also includes the durable and effective Mike Fiers, will hand off to a bullpen that was tough on the oppostion in 2019. That was thanks largely to Liam Hendriks, who – much like former Athletic Blake Treinen before him – emerged as a dominant closer for the club. Whether he can keep it up remains to be seen, though, as Hendriks is just two seasons removed from being outrighted off the A’s 40-man.
Although there’s plenty of talent up and down Oakland’s roster, the team could face a stiffer test in its division this year. The Astros are arguably in position to decline somewhat, but the Angels and Rangers worked hard over the winter to better their chances of competing for the crown this year. And for what it’s worth, the recently released PECOTA projections call for the A’s to take a considerable step back, predicting 85 wins and a third-place finish in the AL West. That’s a solid amount of victories, but it’s obviously not what A’s have in mind for 2020 after two consecutive stellar seasons. The question is: Do you expect them to remain among the AL’s elite for a third year in a row?
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