Oakland Athletics: Keys to a Successful 2013 Season
Stun the Critics....Again
The Oakland Athletics may have won the 2012 A.L. West in stirring fashion, advancing on to push Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers to a thrilling five-game ALDS, but that doesn't seem to have impressed many MLB experts.
Heading into the 2013 season, the general consensus from those that have made 2013 projections is that the A's will finish second or third, behind the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Texas Rangers. Some, such as the projections made by ESPN the Magazine, have the A's finishing second and picking up one of the Wild Card spots.
The prevalent mindset seems to be a combination of "Was 2012 a fluke? Maybe!" and the whole thing about the Angels signing Josh Hamilton, since that will push them over the top for good, assuring a 115-47 record and a lot less Mike Scioscia scowls than usual.
However, anyone quick to pick the Angels to run away with the A.L. West must have not been paying close attention to the final few months of the 2012 season, when Hamilton let down the Rangers and scuffled mightily down the stretch. And let's not forget the devastating error he committed in the last game of the season in Oakland, which opened the door for the A's to pile on runs and eventually blow out the Rangers en route to their division title.
So what are the most important keys for the A's to shock the critics (yet again) and improve upon last season's miracle run? A few things, mainly, involving both key contributors to 2012's success and some fresh faces.
Josh Reddick Building Upon a Solid 2012
Josh Reddick needs to build upon his 2012 successes. Reddick mashed 32 home runs last season and was a cornerstone of the A's offense, but he struggled terribly down the stretch, presumably running out of gas in his first full season of "everyday player" status.
Josh, who now sports a massive, Jayson Werth-like caveman beard, has had a solid Spring Training, and if he's able to remain more consistent and less streaky in 2013, it'll go a long way.
Jed Lowrie Staying Healthy
Jed Lowrie needs to become a regular contributor to the team's offense. The infielder, picked up in a trade with the new A.L. West division foe Houston Astros recently, has also had a strong spring - but he's always (and I mean ALWAYS) prone to injuries that force him to miss significant portions of the season.
Heading into his first season with the A's, Lowrie is penciled in as the team's starting shortstop (since Hiroyuki Nakajima will begin the year on the D.L.). If he's able to stay healthy and put together a full season of play, his offense and defensive flexibility will come up big.
Jarrod Parker - Continuing to Develop
The continued maturation of Jarrod Parker is tantamount to the A's future success. Parker logged 181 innings in his first real season of full-time starter status. Still, he has had some arm issues in the past, and the A's would be smart to make sure he doesn't risk hurting himself with a heavy workload.
Tommy Milone Continuing to Be Quietly Efficient
Tommy Milone is stepping into his own as a crafty left-handed starter. Milone - who some have compared to Tom Glavine, stuff-wise - is looking to improve upon a solid 2012 that found him going 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA (and a solid start against Detroit in the ALDS).
Use Team Depth to Combat Injuries
Yes, injuries are something ALL teams have to avoid or deal with in order to succeed, but for the A's it will be a crucial factor for the team's success. Outfielder/slugger Yoenis Cespedes missed 33 games in 2012 with various injuries. If he's able to stay healthy and get his absurdly potent bat in the lineup every day, it'll drastically help the team score runs. The same can be said for Coco Crisp, as he missed some of 2012 in his own right, but the addition of Chris Young to the outfield is a very solid contingency plan (and the A's already plan to rotate Crisp, Cespedes, Reddick and Young in and out of the outfield and DH positions on a regular basis).
If Oakland keeps the injury bug at bay, Milone and Parker continue to develop while anchoring the rotation, and Reddick is able to build upon 2012's successes and expand his offensive approach, the A's will be in a fine position to prove the experts wrong...again.