Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The 2014 Oakland Athletics are already dealing with injuries to key players. That’s the bad news. The “good” news is there is an injury epidemic in Major League Baseball this spring. The team hit the hardest so far has been the Texas Rangers, Oakland’s biggest threat at a three-peat for the AL West crown. The Rangers will be without their top 3 starters come Opening Day. The Athletics have lost Jarrod Parker for the 2014 season, but they are a much deeper team than Texas and should be able to absorb injuries, especially to their pitching, and come out of 2014 right where they expected–atop the AL West.
The Rangers are built around 1 ace and 4 subsequent starters. The A’s are built around young, hungry pitchers and a veteran in Scott Kazmir,that are eager to prove themselves yet again. By the looks of it, there are 8 of them. With Parker down, that still leaves 7 guys that can go out on any given day and get the win.
Texas has added some offense for the 2014 campaign in Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, but I have been adamant in saying that Fielder will have his worst statistical season to date. The reasoning is simple: good pitching beats good hitting. Facing the A’s and Mariner’s rotations 38 times, plus Detroit’s another 7 will shrink his numbers, and therefore the Ranger offense.
It seems like we’re just focusing on Texas. What about the Angels? The Angels have proven to be under-achievers the past 2 seasons, even with big-name acquisitions. Barring injury, they will improve upon their 2013 record of 78-84. How drastically can the Angels really improve with an aging Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, who would swing if the ball were rolled to the plate, and Mike Trout who has already been of MVP caliber the past 2 seasons? 5 games? 10? Either way, the A’s won’t fall into the 80 win realm. They are still a 90+ victory team, built on starting pitching and a shutdown bullpen.
The way I see it right now, the Seattle Mariners will finish 2nd in the division. They have a very solid rotation, and an improved offense. They are the only team in the division that can challenge the Athletics, because they have quality starters, which the A’s generally struggle against. The difference between the two teams is that Oakland beats the teams they should, and is a challenge for the best teams too. Oakland went 8-11 against Seattle last season, and still finished with 96 wins. Even if they drop a couple more to the M’s, that isn’t too big of a change to the landscape of the AL West.
Yes, the A’s are dealing with injuries. Craig Gentry and Ryan Cook should be back shortly, solidifying the team for the 2014 season. Billy Beane made a plethora of moves this offseason to get the A’s to the World Series. If the team’s starters are faltering, why wouldn’t he make one more to steady the ship? The theme all offseason was the the A’s were going “all in”. If the team has a need, and Beane can fill that need, he will make it happen. Starting in 2015, key players like Brandon Moss start becoming eligible for arbitration. 2016 is the last year Yoenis Cespedes is under contract. The window could start closing on this current squad in the next couple of years, but in 2014 the AL West title will belong in Oakland.