The Oakland Athletics lost 94 games in 2015, 93 in 2016 and 87 in 2017. Not one national prognosticator had them anywhere near the postseason in 2018.
Yet that’s exactly where they wound up, winning 22 more games than they did in 2017 and making the wild-card game. Unfortunately for them, that’s as far as they got, just like the 2018 Cubs. The A’s did this with a team that scored buckets of runs, 813 of them, fourth in the American League, and they were second in the A.L. with 227 home runs. But it was the pitching staff that made the biggest improvement, going from 827 runs allowed in 2017 to 674 in 2018.
And that was with a rotation of misfits, including former Cubs Brett Anderson and Edwin Jackson, both of whom pitched very well for Oakland. No, I cannot figure that out either. Anderson is back and Jackson remains unsigned, and the A’s have cobbled together some more misfits for 2019, including Mike Fiers, who was once successful for the Brewers and Astros, and Marco Estrada, another formerly successful hurler in Milwaukee and Toronto. Will it work? Well, I wouldn’t have said Jackson and Anderson would be good last year, and they were. So, the A’s must be doing something right.
The offense, though, returns mostly intact. The biggest change will be Jurickson Profar, acquired from the Rangers, who will start at second base. Profar has been around forever, it seems, but is only 26. He had a pretty good year in Texas in 2018 (.254/.335/.458 with 35 doubles and 20 home runs, 2.0 bWAR), and perhaps he can build on that.
Blake Treinen, a setup man in Washington, was lights-out once given the closer role in Oakland: 0.78 ERA, 0.834 WHIP, only two home runs allowed in 80⅓ innings, 100 strikeouts and 38 saves in 43 opportunities. He finished sixth in Cy Young voting.
Bob Melvin doesn’t get enough credit for the job he’s done in Oakland. He’s now entering his ninth year managing the A’s, and in the previous eight he’s won 90+ games three times. It seems like he’s been managing forever (and in a way he has: his first managing gig was the 2003 Mariners, whose best pitcher was Jamie Moyer), but he’s actually seven years younger than Joe Maddon.
In 2016, the Cubs swept the A’s in Oakland on August 5, 6 and 7. In an odd coincidence, the teams will meet in 2019 on the same calendar dates, August 5-6-7, this time at Wrigley Field. It will be the A’s first visit to Wrigley since 2010.
This concludes my annual “Know your enemy” series, a brief look at the Cubs’ 20 opponents for 2019.