This was not your typical Oakland A’s Opening Day. For one thing, they won, something they hadn’t done in their first game of the season since 2004. Secondly, they scored runs, something they hadn’t done on Opening day since 2012 (though not facing Felix Hernandez helped). And then there was Sonny Gray taking a no-hitter into the 8th inning. Things that don’t usually happen happened!
It was nice to see the A’s come out swinging. We are so used to be lulled to sleep by the lack of offense on Opening Day, but Ben Zobrist wasted no time in getting the A’s on the board with a two-run homer in his first regular season at-bat as an A. Stephen Vogt added a no doubter three-run shot later and the A’s offense pretty much cruised, while Sonny cruised on the mound, with some slick defensive assistance by Brett Lawrie and Ike Davis. The only stress as a viewer was for Sonny’s potential no hitter, rather than the prospect of winning and losing.
Now, I definitely wanted to see the no-hitter happen, but at the same time I feared that Bob Melvin was going to have to make a Really Tough Decision, considering Gray’s pitch count and that it was the first game of the season. No-hitters are hard to get so I wasn’t crestfallen when Ryan Rua poked a base hit into right field to lead off the 8th inning. Now Melvin could make a guilt-free call to the bullpen and we could end the night with a nice lopsided victory over the Texas Rangers, and we did.
And now that we’ve got Opening Day over with, it’s on with the daily grind. For me, that’s not going to involve staying up late for any more west coast night games, but instead watching archived games the next morning while trying to avoid social media spoilers. Technology is sweet. Go A’s!
Pitchers and catchers have reported to camp. Guys are starting to throw and everyone has great things to say. Rehabbing A.J. Griffin is “as lively as we’ve seen him in quite some time.” The ball is “screaming” out of R.J. Alvarez’s hand and Jesse Hahn threw a curveball that buckled BoMel’s knees. Barry Zito, of all people, is in green and gold again. These guys are amazing and I can’t wait for my MLB.tv subscription to auto renew. Hope springs eternal.
It was an eventful winter, one that saw the dismantling and ultimately retooling of the team that was tearing up the baseball world some eight months ago. After they made an addition by signing Billy Butler to a three-year deal, things began on a downward trend, with the Black Friday shocker trade of Josh Donaldson. Then came the trades of Brandon Moss and Jeff Samardzija within a day of each other in December, followed by Derek Norris being shipped out of town a week later. It looked like we were cleaning house, going into a rebuild. But then came the January 10 acquisition of Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar, and then Escobar being flipped for Tyler Clippard. Suddenly, along with some of the pieces acquired in the November and December trades, this looked like a team that might not be half bad.
The A’s are never bad. Really, they never punt a season. Even in recent stretch of down years – the Bob Geren years from 2007 to 2011 – the worst they finished was 74-88. The last time they lost 90+ was in 1997, uncoincidentally the first year of Billy Beane’s GM tenure. Billy Beane tries to win, always.
So we have a new look A’s team in 2015, one with a lot of unknowns and one that is missing a lot of the most well-known faces from last season. But I don’t expect them to be bad. In fact, with all the spring training optimism going around, I expect them to be good. They’ll be bad when I actually see them being bad and racking up losses in the standings. Until then, my hope spring eternal that maybe this is finally the year where things will be different at the end. Go A’s…
I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when stuff like that happens. But I can’t help it. When I saw the Twitter alert about Josh Donaldson being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach much like the feeling I had the night of the wild card game. This is the one thing that couldn’t possibly happen. But it did happen, in real life, and we’ve got to move forward with the reality that this is now a Josh Donaldson-less team.
Donaldson is irreplaceable. It hasn’t been very often over the last 15 years or so that the A’s have had one of the best position players in baseball on their team. Jason Giambi was that in 2000, Miguel Tejada in 2002. I don’t know that anyone else was really that guy until Josh Donaldson became that guy for the A’s in 2013 and 2014. Having a guy like that is a luxury for the A’s and I know it couldn’t last forever, but damn.
Donaldson is irreplaceable, but someone’s got to play third base for the A’s in 2015 anyway, and at the moment that looks like it will be Brett Lawrie, one of the four players acquired in trade. He’ll turn 25 in January and he’s already got four years of big league experience under his belt. He’s a solid defender and a good hitter with some power, but the big question about him is health. He’s always seemed to be nagged by injuries and the most games he’s ever played in a season is 125 in 2012. I wonder if not playing 81 home games a year on artificial turf will help him stay healthy.
The A’s also picked up a couple of young pitchers in the deal, lefty Sean Nolin and righty Kendall Graveman. Both have had brief stints in the big leagues already and it sounds as if they’ll be competing for big league jobs in spring training. Nolin especially sounds intriguing as a rotation candidate who impressed in the Arizona Fall League this year. And the fourth piece is 18-year-old shortstop prospect Franklin Barreto, who MLB.com immediately ranks as the #3 prospect in the A’s system.
As things stand now, the A’s starting pitching is still extremely deep, and you can always consider yourself in the mix when you have good pitching. But this move is a blow, not just to the lineup but to the identity of a franchise that has struggled to find an identity over the past several years, and isn’t even the most popular team in the city in which it plays. It’s definitely a sad day to be an A’s fan. We’ll move on, as we always do, but this kind of stuff doesn’t ever get easy.