Sizing up the Oakland A’s and AL West on Opening Night

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The A’s finally get back to playing games that count when they open their 2014 season against the Cleveland Indians tonight in Oakland and first pitch can’t come a moment to soon for this die-hard fan. I took a look at the team’s Opening Day roster decisions and what the A’s learned in spring training over at Hot Stove Baseball but there’s always more for me to ramble about when it comes to the green and gold:

  • BREAK THE STREAK: If it feels like the A’s haven’t won on Opening Day for a long time, it’s because they haven’t. Oakland hasn’t come out on top in its first game of the season since 2004 when the team beat Texas, 5-4. Want a blast from the past? Chad Bradford got the win and Arthur Rhodes got the save that day and the lineup featured Eric Karros as the starting first baseman. Drawing the Cleveland Indians tonight should help the A’s chances of finally winning on Opening Night after hitting a brick wall in Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners for the past four years. I know Opening Night is just one game out of 162, but it’s still nice to kick the season off with a win.
  • A.J. GRIFFIN: I’m cautiously optimistic that Griffin can come back from elbow tendinitis and be an effective, reliable member of the A’s rotation all season. But that gut feeling is heavy on the caution and light on the optimism considering the fact that an entire offseason of rest didn’t cure what ails Griffin. I’m not sold on a month or so of rest along with a shot of platelet-rich plasma and some rehab getting Griffin back to full speed but I have my fingers crossed.
  • MICHAEL CHOICE: Admit it, you’re going to be keeping a close eye on what the former A’s prospect does in Texas while crossing your fingers that Craig Gentry plays a big role in Oakland winning the AL West again. Nervously viewing the Gentry-Choice trade in the same light as the Milton BradleyAndre Ethier trade may be a little lazy but it’s impossible to avoid. At least Ethier did his damage in the National League. If Choice develops into a power hitting beast in Texas he’ll torture the A’s for years in the AL West.
  • STEPHEN VOGT: Reading about Vogt getting choked up and holding back tears after learning that we was being sent to Triple A Sacramento despite hitting the cover off the ball actually pulled at the hearstrings of this cold-hearted A’s fan. Vogt’s rise to the big leagues is a fantastic story, his game-winning hit in the 2013 playoffs will never be forgotten and on top of all that, he sounds like a genuinely good guy. You pull for players like that and it was brutal seeing him squeezed out of the Opening Day roster. But with John Jaso‘s susceptability to concussions, Vogt is just a couple of foul tips away from being in Oakland for most of the season. He’ll be back and he’ll be a part of any success the A’s enjoy in 2014.
  • Daric Barton refuses to go away.

    Daric Barton refuses to go away.

    DARIC BARTON: I’m sure there’s segment of the A’s fanbase that’s starting to view Barton as the baseball equivalent of crud stubbornly stuck to the bottom of a shoe. No matter how hard you try to scrape it off, the crud just won’t go away. Breaking camp with Barton penciled in for regular playing time may not be popular, but everyone’s favorite whipping boy is going to be standing on the foul line during Opening Night introductions so there’s no point in hoping for anything but the best out of Barton. I have to tip my hat to the kid for the perseverance he’s shown over the years. He knows he doesn’t exactly have a big fan club but he seems to be using the doubters as motivation. If it leads to some key hits and slick defensive plays I’ll take it.

  • TEXAS RANGERS: With Jarrod Parker, Griffin, Ryan Cook and Gentry on the shelf for the A’s, I’m relieved that the Rangers are also dealing with their fair share of bumps and bruises right now. On paper, it doesn’t look like they’re in position to pull away from the pack early in the season. But we’ll soon discover whether Texas’ patchwork starting rotation is ready for prime time.
  • THE ANGELS AND MARINERS: I’ve gotten so used to the A’s and Rangers being the top dogs in the AL West that I keep catching myself dismissing Anaheim and Seattle these days. If Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton have rebound seasons the Angels won’t need great pitching to make some noise in the division. And the Mariners just need their young players to provide Robinson Cano with a supporting cast for them to move into contention if their pitching comes together.
  • HOUSTON ASTROS: Smart money says they’re still going to be cellar dwellers in the AL West but Houston should be halfway decent which is a vast improvement over last season’s 100-loss club. The rebuild is going to pay off soon for the Astros and winning the AL West is going to be harder than ever for the A’s now that everyone in the division is rising to the challenge of keeping up with Oakland and Texas.
  • JOE BLANTON: The big guy is back and he’s scheduled to report to Sacramento to try and get back on track and provide the A’s with some insurance if the starting rotation needs reiforcements. You knew general manager Billy Beane would start dumpster diving for some affordable arms as soon as Parker and Griffin went down. Blanton’s about as interesting as any of the other veteran options out there who are willing to eat up some innings at Triple A with no guaranteed call to the big leagues. Now that Blanton’s back, it’s time to sign fellow 2006 A’s starters Barry Zito and Rich Harden.

In a few hours (weather permitting), the A’s will start the 162-game grind to pursue a third-consecutive AL West title. There’s obviously no guarantee that the regular season will end with champagne flowing in the locker room again but if the past few seasons are any prove anything, there definitely won’t be many dull moments for manager Bob Melvin’s talented and colorful ballclub.


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