COMMENTARY | The Oakland A's surprised the baseball world in 2012 by winning the American League West after being picked by many experts to finish in last place. Many expected the team to come back to reality in 2013.
Despite some ups and downs over the first two months of the season, the A's started the last day of May with the fourth-best record in the American League, seven games over .500 and just three games behind the league-leading Texas Rangers.
When one looks at the fact that the team's home run leader last season, outfielder Josh Reddick, as well as the two pitchers expected to top the team's starting rotation, Brett Anderson and Jarrod Parker, have been all injured or ineffective for most of the year, it's somewhat surprising that the team is still in contention. So how have the A's managed to maintain a solid winning record two months into the season?
Well, they've gotten a huge amount of help from a few surprising sources.
After establishing himself as the A's everyday third baseman midway through last season, Donaldson did his part to contribute to the A's winning ways, coming up with some key hits in the A's drive to the division title. Donaldson finished the season with a modest .241 batting average with 9 home runs and 33 RBIs in 274 at-bats. He was expected once again to begin 2013 as the starter at the hot corner and hit behind bigger bats like Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Seth Smith.
But two months into the season, Donaldson is anchoring the middle of the order and has been the A's best all-around hitter so far in 2013. He currently leads the team in hits, doubles, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. His on-base percentage of .401 is 10th in the league, and his 8 home runs and 33 RBIs after just two months almost mirror his entire totals from last season. No one expected Josh Donaldson to be the A's most productive hitter this year but, with injuries to many of the A's key sluggers, he's definitely stepped up to fill the void when the team has needed him the most.
Shortstop Jed Lowrie was the last significant piece that general manger Billy Beane added in the offseason, and many viewed his acquisition as a bit of an afterthought, especially with the signing of Japanese import Hiro Nakajima, who was expected to be the A's starting shortstop. No one was quite sure where Lowrie would play, and he was being billed as something of a super-utility type.
Well, he has been super, not in a utility role, but as the A's primary shortstop. Nakajima under-performed and then was injured in spring training. Lowrie stepped in as the A's starting shortstop on opening day and, next to Donaldson, he's been the team's most consistent hitter all season. He's second on the team in hits, doubles, batting average and on-base percentage. It's been a while since the A's have had a .300-hitting shortstop (Lowrie's currently at .304) and, with numerous injuries to middle infielders early in the year, it's hard to know just what the A's would have done if they hadn't made the critical trade for Lowrie in the offseason.
When the A's re-signed Bartolo Colon as a free agent in the offseason, despite his late-season suspension after testing positive for banned substances, many A's fans were skeptical. The 39-year-old was clearly overweight, had been returning from an injury, and some wondered if he would still have what it takes to perform.
He was slotted into the fifth spot at the backend of the A's rotation, but a funny thing happened. Bartolo Colon has become the ace of the A's staff over the first two months of 2013. At 3.82, Colon has posted the best ERA of any of the A's starters, is tied for the team lead in wins with 5, and he's walked only 4 batters in 61 1/3 innings. With Anderson's and Parker's travails, the A's starting rotation could have become a shambles quickly, but Colon has stepped up to provide stability and consistency to a pitching staff that hasn't panned out the way it was planned. Without his veteran presence in the rotation, there's no telling where the A's would be at this point.
These three key contributors have been the main reasons the A's have managed to stay in contention this season, despite the injuries and ineffectiveness that have plagued some of the team's top players. And the A's are going to need them to keep up the good work if they hope to remain in contention all the way to the finish line.
Bill Moriarity is the founder and editor of www.AthleticsFarm.com where he keeps close tabs on all the A's top prospects.
- Sports & Recreation
- Josh Reddick
- Josh Donaldson
- American League
- Bartolo Colon
- American League West