Oakland Athletics: Three Key Problems the A’s Need to Solve

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Apr 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics players celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Royals 5-3 at the Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics players celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Royals 5-3 at the Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports /
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After two weeks, the Oakland Athletics’ strengths and weaknesses are becoming clearer:

In 2016, the Oakland Athletics have shown that they can play well on the road…in Seattle. They have also proven that they can go toe-to-toe against the World Champs. The A’s are better this year than they were last year. The team has some problems, but there is enough depth to offer some potential solutions to most (though not all) of these problems.

One potential problem that immediately comes to mind is that Rich Hill has put a tremendous strain on the bullpen. The A’s are among the league leaders in innings pitched by the bullpen. Fortunately, the bullpen has been up to the task so far. Unfortunately, however, Bob Melvin can not expect his relievers to keep up this pace.

That is the bad news. The good news is that Henderson Alvarez is making steady progress. He should be joining the rotation in about three weeks. I imagine the A’s are going to take it slow and easy with Alvarez. Still, by the end of May both Alvarez and Sonny Gray will be going deep into games. It’s important to keep in mind that the Kansas City Royals are world champions for a reason. They take a lot of pitches and grind out a lot of at bats, and they put a lot of pressure on a pitcher. Even Sonny Gray lasted just six innings against them.

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If Alvarez comes back full strength, the front end of the rotation will be set with Gray, Alvarez, Chris Bassitt and Kendall Graveman. The fifth starter will probably be Hill, just because the A’s have invested in him with a big contract. Eric Surkamp could go to the bullpen as a long reliever – or he might end up in Nashville ,waiting in the wings with Jesse Hahn.

Another potential problem is that Sean Doolittle has been ineffectual as a closer. A quick glance at virtually any comment section concerning the Oakland A’s confirms that fans are growing frustrated with Doolittle.

This issue has a relatively simple fix: if Doolittle is not up to the task, Ryan Madson has shown he can rack up saves. (I wonder what the Royals were thinking as they watched Joakim Soria blow the game for them while Madson was saving the game for the A’s. Should’ve spent a few more bucks!) If Madson can not handle the ninth, John Axford can close games. The bullpen has been a source of strength so far, and it looks like it will be one of the keys to a good season.

The last potential problem is right-handed hitting. So far, Billy Butler is off to a poor start. Khris Davis is not hitting either, and while Danny Valencia seems to be making better contact, he is not hitting for power. Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt are raking from the left side.

Next: Finding Ways to Win in 2016

Potential solutions to this problem? I got nothin’. The A’s could look to the minors, but there is not a lot there. Renato Nunez is leading the Nashville Sounds with a .270 average. Jake Smolinski is currently hitting .225. For those of you with fond memories of spring training, Matt Chapman is hitting a paltry .229 for Single-A Midland. A’s fans will just have to be patient with Butler and Davis.

If only the A’s could just avoid facing left-handed pitching altogether…

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