The Oakland A’s Matt Chapman running the bases in this spring training photo on Feb 22, 2021. Played only 37 out of 60 regular season games last year. Is looking to play the full season this year. (AP News photo)
2021 Opening Day: Hangover from Covid
That’s Amaury News and Commentary
By Amaury Pi-González
The hangover from covid could be coming to an end this next Thursday on April 1. Opening Day. Hangovers typically go away within 24 hours, but 24 hours can feel like an eternity. The last 12 plus months have been an eternity in our lives, but baseball is coming to the rescue, and this hangover is just about done. Baseball is like the proverbial bowl of Menudo, that many believe is the best “cure” for a hangover.
April 1, 2021, will mark the first time since 1968 that all major league teams open their season (all 30) on the same day. Last year was a 60-game sprint this year should be the regular 162-game marathon, one thing that makes baseball unique among all major sports.
This is how I see the American League West this year (how they will finish):
1- Oakland Athletics: Although they lost some key pieces this off-season like Marcus Semien (Jays) Liam Hendricks (White Sox) Tommy LaStella (Giants) Robbie Grossman (Tigers) Joaquim Soria (Arizona) Khris Davis (Texas) and pitcher Mike Minor to Kansas City, they still hungry after elimination by the Houston Astros in the AL Division Series.
The A’s on their division without their star third-baseman Matt Chapman who played part time in 37 of the 60 game-season. Their pitching rotation still young, specially their starters, with real breakout potential, Jesús Luzardo, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea and Frankie Montás, and A.J Puk, Puk’s gone through Tommy John and shoulder surgeries in the last four years, but had a terrific Spring Training.
Mike Fiers could give them more experience on the mound, but he will begin season on the Injured List with left hip inflammation. Towards the end of the off season they did picked-up veteran shortstop Elvis Andrus from Texas, together with catcher Aramis García (who played for the Giants in 2020) he is the #2 catcher behind regular Sean Murphy.
Revamped their bullpen early in the post season with left handed pitcher Nik Turley from the Pirates, veteran reliever Sergio Romo (Twins) and closer Trevor Rosenthal who pitched for the Padres last season, to a one year deal for $11 million, plus lefty Adam Kolarek from the Dodgers, while retaining Jake Diekman, Yusmeiro Petit and Lou Trivino.
To replace the vacant DH position for Khris Davis, the A’s acquired veteran first-baseman and DH Mitch Moreland. Jed Lowrie is back and he could be alternating at second base with Tony Kemp or ‘all around’ utility extraordinaire Chad Pinder. Ramón Laureano, Elvis Andrus, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Jed Lowrie, Stephen Piscotty, Mark Canha, young-talented catcher Sean Murphy, they should have enough offense.
A new name in town, will be 26 year-old outfielder Ka’ai Tom, born in Honolulu, Hawaii, who made the team during last week of Spring Training. Why the A’s did not keep their home-born favorite player Marcus Semien, who signed for 1-year in Toronto for $18 million, I still do not understand. Bob Melvin is one of the best managers in the game and in my opinion very underrated.
2- Los Angeles Angels: Finished ten games behind the Athletics and in fourth place. They have one of the best one-two punches of any line-up in baseball with Mike Trout (the best player in baseball) and Anthony Rendón. And a supporting cast of future Hall of Famers: Albert Pujols (his last year of his 10-year contract) Justin Upton, David Fletcher, plus two veterans acquired this winter slick-fielding shortstop José Iglesias and outfielder Dexter Fowler, who is an insurance policy for the club, while young Jo Adell will begin the season in their minor leagues.
After a breakout rookie year, young Jared Walsh is expected to be their first baseman, most of the time over veteran Albert Pujols. The pitching still a big question mark . They were mentioned as the favorite destination for right-hander Trevor Bauer, the NL Cy Young Award winner last season, but he decided to go a few miles up north on Hwy 5 and signed with the LA Dodgers.
The Angels rotation with Shohei Ohtani (who will also be a DH) Andrew Heaney, Dylan Bundy, Griffin Canning, Alex Cobb and new acquisition José Quintana. Any combination of those six should be their starting rotation. José Quintana was an interesting acquisition, he was starting pitcher for the Cubs but suffered a thumb injury on his left hand while washing dishes at his Miami home and only pitched in five games for the Cubs, starting only one game, he has good stuff and could be a key factor for the Halos.
Weakness is depth of starting pitching. Their offense should be formidable, led by Mike Trout. If anybody could surprise here and challenge the A’s, is this team, with their great manager Joe Maddon. They finished in fourth place a third place finish is a conservative pick.
However, if their pitching performs well, they could rival the Athletics for the division title. I think the Angels are the most interesting team in this division. Mike Trout has only made it to one playoff since 2014. For a while I pondered about where they will end the season. Pick’ em for second place.
3- Houston Astros: The Astros would had continued to be the Athletics biggest foe, until they lost Frember Valdéz to a Spring Training injury and subsequent surgery, he will miss most of this season. Pitching star and Número Uno starter Justin Verlander underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery on Sept. 30, 2020, and he is doubtful to pitch during the 2021 season.
Verlander is a two-time Cy Young winner and future member of the Hall of Fame. Everyday he is not pitching, it would represent a big advantage to the Athletics, not to mention the other teams in the West. The starting rotation; Zack Greinke (who was their best pitcher last season) and will open the season for the club, Lance McCullers Jr, José Urquidy, Cristian Javier, who finished third in the running for Rookie of the Year in 2020.
Their bullpen is not their best department, although they picked up veteran reliever Pedro Báez who was with the Dodgers since 2014. Their offense still excellent. Even without George Springer, who signed a 6 year $150 million contract with Toronto, the Astros still have one of the best lineups, with José Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Michael Brantley, Yuli Guriel, Josh Reddick, Kyle Tucker and the return of their young slugger and Designated Hitter Jordan Alvarez (23) whose knee is healthy, he is the key in this powerful lineup, if he stays healthy, watch out.
The Astros escaped the wrath of the fans in 2020, with no fans allowed, after their sign-stealing scandal the previous season. Ironically, the covid pandemic helped the Astros in that regard. But, it is not like this happened 20 years ago, so it would be interesting to see the fans reaction during this season.
They are still a very good team, now with 38-year old Opening Night starter Zack Greinke, but the Astros will begin the season with a wounded rotation. Dusty Baker back at the helm trying to go deeper in the post season, as they were eliminated after they took the Atléticos in the Divisional Series.
Dusty with 1,892 wins is #15 in the old-time manager’s winning list and second among active managers to Tony LaRussa, back with the White Sox as manager, Tony is #3 all time manager with 2,728 wins.
The last team the A’s played last season, Houston, will be the first they play this year. Third place is the place for the kids from the “Space Center”. But do not bet on it.
4-Seattle Mariners: Center fielder Kyle Lewis won the AL Rookie of the Year getting all 30 votes. The Mariners could use a few more like Lewis in their lineup. Their veteran third baseman Kyle Seager led the club with 40 RBIs. Their No.5 prospect Taylor Trammell could open the season as their rookie left-fielder.
Just days before Spring Training veteran lefty James Paxton came back after pitching for the Yankees last year to join the team he had played who drafted him in 2010 and played for since 2013. Paxton is now part of their pitching rotation headed last season by lefty veteran Marco González with a 7-2 and 3.10 ERA in 11 games started, Yusei Jikuchi, Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn.
There is no Mariano Rivera in the Seattle bullpen, but there is nobody remotely close to a Mariano Rivera anyway. They are not better than the A’s, Astros or Angels, so they should probably dock their ship in fourth place. Any finish above sea level for these Mariners should be a big improvement.
Last year they finished in third place with 27-33, actually not that bad. Seattle is a great city, with great regional fans, they come from hundreds of miles north, south, east and west, even from another country, Canada, to one of the best baseball facilities in MLB, Safeco Field. They remain the only team in this division never to have made it to a World Series, since their first season in 1977. They are definitely not going to a World Series this year.
5-Texas Rangers: They built a new park last season, Globe Life Field, a $1.1 billion retractable Texas palace (that is the value of the Oakland A’s franchise today) The Rangers still have not played a regular season game at their new digs.
The 2020 World Series was played there last year, and their first home game is scheduled for April 5, against the Toronto Blue Jays. That will be the first time they will play at their palatial new ballpark. Nobody would envy the job of manager Chris Woodward with these Texas Rangers.
They lost two of their star regular players in Elvis Andrus (A’s) and Nomar Mazara (Tigers). Rougned Odor had a tough season, hit .167 in 38 games, still hit ten home runs and drove-in 28 runs. They still have Joey Gallo (who every year is mentioned as possible bait for a big trade) Still have Isah Kiner-Falefa, and newcomers, Khris Davis, Nate Lowe and David Dahl.
Starters in their rotation; Kyle Gibson, Mike Foltynewicz, Dane Dunning, and Kohei Arihara. Best they can hope is a fourth place finish same as last season when they ended with 22-38, 14 games behind the division champion Athletics. I think the Mariners will push for the cellar.
One of my old friends favorite saying was “the more things change, the more they stay the same”, they finished last in 2020 and should do same this year. Biggest positive for their fans in 2021, their new ballpark was to be inaugurated in 2020, but covid-19 derailed that possibility, but not this year.
Texas was first State in the country lo lift their lock-down restrictions and this team was first in MLB to announce they will sell all 40,000 seat plus for their first game of the season at home. Good Luck to the Rangers, they are going to need it.
Notes: The Oakland Athletics will open their 53rd season at Oakland this Thursday during a 7-game home stand, when they host the Houston Astros in the first of four games to be followed with three games against the World Champions Los Angeles Dodgers.
Opening Night: Bob Melvin will send Chris Bassitt to the mound, while Dusty Baker inked his veteran Zack Greinke to open the season. In case you are counting. It has been 32 years since the last time the Athletics won a World Series, when they swept the San Francisco Giants in the famous “Earthquake World Series” in 1989.
First pitch 7:07 960AM-A’s Cast—(Spanish) KIQI 1010/KATD 990AM Bay Area and Sacramento/Stockton — TV- NBCSCA
Did You Know? Charlie O Finley owner of the Oakland Athletics said he chose ‘green and gold’ for the uniforms in honor of his favorite college football team Notre Dame.
Stay well and stay tuned.
Amaury Pi Gonzalez is the lead Spanish play by play announcer for the Oakland A’s on radio 1010 KIQI La Grande San Francisco and does News and Commentary at http://www.sportsradioservice.com