By Morris Phillips
It would be a fair question for anyone trying to assess the 2017 Oakland A’s after only two games, and of course, the answers aren’t written in stone, but here goes: If the A’s are to show measureable improvement over the 69-93 A’s of 2016, in which of these three 2016 problem areas–offensive production, especially at home; bullpen performance; and defensive ability–could the A’s improve dramatically?
And the answer would have to be (again, after just two contests) ability to score runs with an emphasis on improving those run totals at the O.co Coliseum. A major-league leading five home runs hit by A’s is the core of that belief, but other factors have emerged as well.
Last season, the A’s were 21st out of 30 big league clubs in home runs, and 26th in total bases. This season–after two games–the A’s are first in homers, second in total bases. All three of the team’s middle of the order guys–Davis, Ryon Healy and Stephen Vogt–have homered in the cool air of the first two nights of the season, and Healy’s bomb was a Josh Donaldson special: plenty of backspin, and directly over the centerfield wall.
Another factor that trends toward increased offense is the veteran presence in the A’s most likely daily lineups with Healy the youngest and least experienced of the group. Healy debuted late last season, and thrived, and there aren’t any signs of slowdown with manager Bob Melvin batting his young third baseman in the three hole in both lineups to date. Matt Joyce, 32, and Rajai Davis, 36, aren’t speedsters or young, but they are veterans capable of setting the table, and Joyce and drawn 389 walks in his career, an offset to his .242 career batting average.
The third veteran addition, Jed Lowrie, returns to an every day role in Oakland, the combo that produced a career year for the Stanford product in 2013, when he hit .290 with 75 RBI. Lowrie has embraced the opportunity so far with five hits in eight at-bats with two extra base hits, including a home run. Lowrie’s double of Matt Shoemaker on Tuesday was well struck also, reaching the wall in right center before either Angels’ outfielder could cut if off.
And the biggest factor to preface an A’s offensive resurgence? There’s no way they could be as porous as they were last season leaving Coliseum fans with little to cheer for.
The A’s bullpen is stocked with names, experience and ability, but which of those names will emerge? In the first two games, Melvin has mixed and matched Santiago Casilla, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, Liam Hendricks and Ryan Dull in a search for late game outs. Dull and Madson have appeared both nights, rookie sensation Frankie Montas not at all, and John Axford in a late announcement after both games, has landed on the disabled list with a shoulder issue. This could be the opening Montas needs to become a big factor, or it could be a reminder that the flamethrower needs more seasoning.
Last season, the A’s bullpen was expected to a be a major strength. In fact, it was a bit of disappointment, and definitely not healthy enough to be a standout. So far, this season it could be more of the same.
Defensively, the A’s have just one plus defender in their regular starting lineup in first baseman Yonder Alonso. Other than that, it’s a mixed bag from Khris Davis’ subpar arm, range issues at second and third with Lowrie and Trevor Plouffe, who missed all of last season, and even Davis, who has lost a step from when he previously wore an A’s uniform. Again, this isn’t an area that necessarily see a significant uptick in production after last season’s team landed at the bottom of the American League in terms of fielding percentage and errors committed.