When you begin to think Moneyball is a fluke and Billy Beane is a madman, the Oakland Athletics shock the baseball world. Coming off three consecutive fifth-place finishes in the AL West, not even the most diehard of A’s fans would have expected the 2018 team to finish with the fourth best record in all of baseball.
When the A’s unloaded Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Rich Hill, Sean Doolittle, Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija and many more following the disappointing end to a magical 2014 season, it was clear they would not be competitive for a long, long time. The 2018 season was supposed to be one of development for Athletics, as nobody expected their young core of stars to be so good so soon. It was an opportunity for young players like third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson to build on their rookie seasons in 2017 and provide optimism for a competitive team in 2019.
70 games into the season, the A’s found themselves at 34–36 and 11.5 games back in the AL West. And then, it started to click. In their next 34 games, the A’s went 27–7 as they found their stride. As the baseball world denied to pay attention to the small-market A’s, they just couldn’t stop winning. From 10 games back in the AL west on July 10, the A’s were tied for division lead on Aug. 18. After an early hot start from the Angels and a late collapse by the Mariners (per usual), the A’s finished the season with 97 wins, a No. 2 place finish behind the Astros in the AL West, and a postseason berth.
Here’s how the A’s shocked the world in 2018:
You know the name and you’ve heard about his defense. What you didn’t know is that Matt Chapman finished No. 7 in AL MVP voting and is on the brink of being the best third baseman in the game. 24 home runs, 68 RBI’s, and a .278 batting average won’t light up the stat sheets, but he’s just getting started. Chapman was a 2014 first round draft pick because he is the complete package- think baseball’s Draymond Green. It’s hard to think he can get much better on defense after winning both the Gold Glove and Platinum Glove in 2018, but all signs indicate he will. He finished with the fifth highest total WAR in 2018 (better than Christian Yelich, Javi Baez, Nolan Arenado, Francisco Lindor, and Jose Ramirez) And, oh yeah, he’s under rookie contract through 2024.
If you consider yourself a fan of baseball, you should be paying attention to Blake Treinen. Coming off one of the greatest seasons ever posted by a closer, Treinen and his arsenal of filthy pitches is ready to repeat what he did in 2018 in 2019. Treinen finished sixth in Cy-Young voting and No. 15 in MVP voting. Treinen was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Sean Doolittle trade and has bounced back from injury in outstanding fashion. In 80.1 innings, Treinen posted a .78 ERA (!!), 38 saves (and nine wins), 100 strikeouts, .834 WHIP, and a .2 HR/9 ratio. He was the A’s team MVP and will be the rock moving forward for Oakland’s stacked bullpen.
He can still pitch?
Every member of the A’s opening day rotation would up on the DL during the 2018 season. To fill those gaps, the A’s turned to seasoned veterans to carry them into the postseason. The combination of Trevor Cahill (30), Edwin Jackson (34), Brett Anderson (30), as well as Mike Fiers (33) as mid-season acquisition provided a spark of experience and passion to a depleted A’s pitching staff.
On top of those guys, it was the combination of many surprises which took the A’s from a .500 team to the 4th best in the game. Sean Manaea started the season in all-star from and no-hit the world series champion Red Sox, Marcus Semien took his defense to the next level and established himself as a reliable shortstop, Matt Olson played all 162 games, Stephen Piscotty was everything the A’s hoped he would be and more, and Khris Davis didn’t stop doing Khris Davis stuff and finished with over 40 home runs for the third consecutive season.
Why Not the Oakland A’s?
The A’s certainly lost some key players in the offseason that will be tough to replace. Jed Lowrie had a career year in 2018, so Jurickson Profar (once a highly touted prospect) will be relied on as his replacement. In his first full and healthy season in the bigs, Profar showed signs of power and speed (20 home runs, 10 steals, .793 OPS) in 2018, and will need to improve on offense while maintain premier defense in 2019. The A’s let veteran Jonathan Lucroy walk after the 2018 season and the platoon of Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann will have to take strides forward in 2019.
With a stellar infield filled this power and defense and a returning top-tier bullpen, the deciding factor for the A’s in 2019 will be their starting rotation and outfield performance. Mike Fiers will lead the A’s rotation as he hoped to build on a strong 2018 stint with the team, but the veterans will have to stay in form for the A’s to have chance. Luckily, the A’s saw that what they lacked in a starting rotation could be made up for with their bullpen. Outside of Estrada and Fiers, starters Frankie Montas, Brett Anderson, Chris Bassitt, and Aaron Brooks will only be expected to post five or six innings per start. These players will all be on a short leash with a bullpen consisting of Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, Joakim Soria, Fernando Rodney and Yusmeiro Petit. As for the outfield, there isn’t much certainty outside of Stephen Piscotty. The book is still being written on center fielder Ramon Laureano
The Oakland Athletics enjoyed a magical 2018 season, and I see no reason to believe they can’t replicate this success in 2019. Their young core of studs, power prowess, elite bullpen, and AL Manager of the Year Bob Melvin at the helm can propel this team to a 90-plus win season and a postseason berth. What is standing in their way? Only the Houston Astros, a Trout-led Angels squad, a promising Mariners squad, a 3-headed power monster in the bronx, the reigning world champions, and themselves. If this team can stay healthy and build on their 2018 success, they’ll be among the best in baseball.
It might be impossible to predict the Oakland Athletics because Billy Beane has built a career out of success occuring when everyone believes it should not. I’m not trying to declare their case to win as “Moneyball 2” because the A’s have reigning AL Manager of the Year Bob Melvin instead of Art Howe (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in Moneyball). New year, new team, same Billy Beane.
So, why not the Oakland A’s?