(Photo Credit: REUTERS/GREGORY FISHER)
When a baseball fan hears of the AL West, the first thing that may come to mind is the defending World Series champion Houston Astros. Another thought might be Shohei Ohtani making history with the Los Angeles Angels as he’s trying to succeed as a two-way player.
The Astros and Angels are fighting for the AL West while the Seattle Mariners are sitting back, hoping that the recent injury to star second baseman Robinson Cano doesn’t hurt their chances of fighting for the postseason. The Texas Rangers have had little luck this season and are comfortably sitting in last place. What about the Oakland A’s though? It feels like they aren’t getting a lot of attention for a team that won 75 games last season.
The A’s are an interesting team this season. There’s a lot of talent, but the talent is young and most of these players probably wouldn’t have a starting job on other ball clubs. Oakland is more than capable of putting pressure on the rest of the AL West and sneaking into the postseason, similar to what happened in 2012 when they won the division on the final day of the year. So what do the A’s have that could make them playoff contenders this season?
Under the radar MVP Jed Lowrie
(Photo Credit: REUTERS/GREGORY FISHER)
The A’s have a balanced lineup, but the leader of it might surprise people. It’s not slugger Khris Davis, nor is it veteran outfielder Matt Joyce. In fact, it’s someone that would be least expected to be leading the way offensively, and that player is second baseman Jed Lowrie.
Lowrie is among the league leaders in hitting this season with a .340 batting average and has also driven in 36 runs, which is second in the AL and only trailing Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado. Lowrie’s nine home runs through this point in the season are a career best for him, and he’s on pace to hit 36 on the season if everything continues going well for him.
Lowrie’s performance at the plate has been overlooked by other stars in the AL, like Machado and Mike Trout, but flying under the radar has been the way Lowrie has done things throughout his career and the 34-year-old infielder is finally putting the pieces together at the plate as an everyday player in the lineup.
The balance in the lineup
A big reason for Oakland’s late-season success last year was because of the emergence of first baseman Matt Olson, who slugged 12 of his 24 home runs in September last year. Olson has struggled early in his sophomore season, but he is young and has plenty of time to develop, as does third baseman Matt Chapman.
The A’s also have a healthy dose of veterans in Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate and Davis and Joyce in the outfield. Guys like Stephen Piscotty and Marcus Semien, who have a fair share of experience in the big leagues, are also great contributors in the daily lineup for manager Bob Melvin when healthy. The bench has a lot of depth in youngsters like Chad Pinder and Mark Canha, who can also make starts regularly if called upon to do so.
Many of the guys in the Oakland lineup have a decent amount of postseason experience on their belts, which is a key for mentorship as prospects like Franklin Barreto and Dustin Fowler come up to the club on a full-time basis. And the veteran presence of Lowrie will also help the younger prospects take on the same mentality of winning and playing hard every day.
(Photo Credit: REUTERS/NEVILLE E. GUARD)
The A’s have used a variety of pitchers in their rotation and bullpen since they started the rebuilding process in 2015. Kendall Graveman appears to be the ace of the rotation down the stretch, but Sean Manaea and Daniel Mengden could also fight for the ace's role. Manaea leads the A’s starters in ERA at 2.11 and strikeouts with 45, and threw a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox on April 21.
With that said, the A’s pitchers are also averaging 7.73 strikeouts per nine innings this season. It’s one of the lower marks in the league (25th overall), but the club has a very respectful 4.31 team ERA at this point in the year. Flamethrower Jharel Cotton is also expected to return from season-ending Tommy John surgery by next July, meaning the addition of a veteran arm either this midseason or during the offseason could set the A’s up for success in the long run in a tight AL West.
With the talent that the Oakland A’s have, there’s reason to have hope for this team down the road. They aren’t getting talked about a lot, but an MVP caliber first half from Jed Lowrie and an early case for the AL Cy Young from Sean Manaea could set the tone for the rest of the season. The A’s are 19-21 and in fourth place in the AL West and with the Mariners losing Robinson Cano till the All-Star break more than likely, the A’s can make noise and potentially keep up with the Angels and Astros during the season.