Although we’re still the best part of three months away from the regular season starting, it won’t be too long before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.
What should we expect from the Oakland A’s in 2018?Â It’s difficult to say and that’s part of what makes this season an interesting one for A’s fans.
We have to start by acknowledging the presence of the reigning World Series champions, the Houston Astros, in the AL West and the likelihood that, even with a World Series hangover, they’re still going to be a strong club.
Then we have the team that has ‘won the off-season’ so far in the LA Angels. We’ve seen plenty of examples over the years of teams that make a lot of moves over an off-season that vaults them up the prediction lists, only for things to not quite come together. Naturally I hope that goes for the Angels in 2018 because on paper it looks like they’ve done a great job of improving their team in several different areas.
The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers are more of an unknown quantity.
Seattle looked like a team that might push forward in 2017 and finally end their play-off appearance drought, but that didn’t materialise.Â Dee Gordon should be a good pick-up for them, albeit having to factor in how he’ll take to centre field, and it will be interesting to see if Ryon Healy can develop for the Mariners having moved from the A’s, yet all things considered the Mariners don’t obviously look significantly improved from the 2017, yet at least.
As for the Rangers, they’ve added some useful arms to their rotation in Matt Moore, Mike Minor and Doug Fister and it’s expected they’ll try to add another too, possibly reuniting with Yu Darvish. Like the M’s, you wouldn’t say they’re significantly better on paper, but at the same time they don’t look worse either.
Which brings us to the A’s and a team that has finished last in the AL West in each of the past three seasons after an enjoyable run of three consecutive play-off appearances.
The 75-87 win-loss record in 2017 was an improvement on 2015-2016 and it came with Matt Olson and Matt Chapman really impressing in their rookie seasons.Â We got a glimpse of top prospect Franklin Barreto too and you can genuinely see the makings of a contender-worthy infield with that group.
The pitching didn’t really come along as hoped despite some good showings here and there, Sean Manaea being the pick of the bunch. I’m not sure we’re any the wiser as to quite what Kendall Graveman, Andrew Triggs, Jesse Hahn, Jharel Cotton and others will become and watching how they develop – or not – will be a key part of the 2018 season.
What we do now have is an encouraging farm system (John Sickels’ recent review of the A’s Top 20 prospects being a good indicator) and, with the likes of Olson and Chapman already making a mark, that’s something to hold on to.
The trade for Stephen Piscotty looks like a positive move as, away from the heart-warming personal aspect, he’s a much-needed right-handed outfielder who offers quite a bit of potential that includes being an affordable part of the team for years to come.Â Although his dip in performance in 2017 reduced his stock somewhat, he’s young enough that this could have just been a bump in the road and I’m optimistic that Piscotty could prove to a productive and popular addition.
Put it all together and you’d still peg getting out of the AL West cellar and pushing towards a winning record as a realistic season that we could call a success.Â The Astros and Angels look like being the top two in the AL West and when you consider the quality of the Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox (the latter surely will add a significant player or two in the coming weeks), the A’s will be far from the only team that sees a play-off spot as a tall order.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have an enjoyable season though, especially given the emerging young talent on the roster and in the Minors.
Key Aâ€™s dates
Let’s look ahead to when the games start up again. Don’t forget to join in the fun by following along on the Oakland A’s UK Twitter account.
Friday 23rd February
The Aâ€™s Cactus League Spring Training starts at home against the LA Angels on Friday 23rd February. First pitch is scheduled for 20.05 GMT so itâ€™s a perfect chance to catch some Aâ€™s baseball right from the off.
Pretty much all Spring Training games are covered at least on radio so can be listened to with an MLB.TV/At Bat subscription (details of 2018’s offering should be published by MLB.com in early February), with a more limited number of games being televised and therefore available to watch via MLB.TV. Weâ€™ll have to wait and see nearer the time as to whether there will be TV coverage, but even so thereâ€™s nothing more relaxing than listening to a radio broadcast from a Spring Training game and theyâ€™re a great way to keep on top of all of the news from Spring Training camp too.
The usual Aâ€™s broadcast crew should be on hand and it’s always great to hear from the team again who will take us through the season ahead. In 2017 we also had Aâ€™s radioâ€™s Vince Cotroneoâ€™s son Dominic providing play-by-play for some Spring Training games, which made for a fun dynamic when father and son joined up.Â Hopefully weâ€™ll get more of the same this year.
Sunday 25th March
The traditional pre-season series against the San Francisco Giants takes place over 25-27 March with the first game being a 21.05 BST first pitch from the Coliseum on the Sunday. Â The other two games take place at AT&T Park and are night games, so less convenient for us to follow live, but itâ€™s good that at least one of the games from that series will be UK-friendly.
Thursday 29th March
The Aâ€™s regular season opener is a 21.05 BST home game against the LA Angels, possibly including Shohei Ohtaniâ€™s Major League debut for the Halos depending on how they set up their starting rotation.
Itâ€™s an earlier than usual start to the MLB regular season and theyâ€™ve made a welcome change for 2018 by having every team start on the same day, with many playing day-games. That will create a feast of baseball for us to enjoy during the British evening on the Thursday and it lines up perfectly with the Easter bank holiday (Good Friday being the following day) so that you really couldnâ€™t wish for a better start to the baseball season.
Having an early start for the Aâ€™s opener will make a welcome change as itâ€™s the first time since 2007 that the A’s have started the regular season with a day-game (although the two games from Japan against Seattle in 2012, and two against Boston in 2008, were day-games for us, but night-games locally).