The passing of the 2019 Fan Fest means that everyone in A’s green and gold can remove a rough 2018 Wild Card loss from the rear view mirror.
Oakland overwhelmed many in and around Major League Baseball and, as several players admitted, surprised many more. Now, for a team that is young and only getting younger, the upcoming campaign will be about harnessing the good, dispelling the bad and taking yet another giant leap forward.
Manage Bob Melvin, who claimed his third Manager of the Year award and a two-year contract extension through the 2021 season, said the next step, winning a regular season division title and a postseason series, will be about his club understanding who it is and embracing the confidence it created starting last June:
“It’s just expecting yourself to go to the next level and having the confidence to do it.”
That should be easily managed for a team that, according to catcher Josh Phegley, was just having fun when it closed the season passed on a historically successful run. Phegley doesn’t view a Wild Card loss as anything but a step that needed to be taken before long-standing success can be achieved.
Matt Olson, who has not yet decided on a display location for his 2018 Gold Glove Award, said that moving forward will begin with the A’s ability to start 2019 off strong and force the momentum to carry over. Chris Bassitt seconded that sentiment, adding that health, something that largely evaded the team last year, is equally important:
“Consistency performance-wise. Health is the name of the game for everything — can you stay healthy or can you not, basically.”
Not one player was willing to place the blame of an abrupt end to 2018 squarely on health — or the lack thereof — all citing it as “part of the game.” But the simple fact of the matter is, 15 different pitchers started games for Melvin’s crew, and nearly 50 were asked to contribute at the big league level, due to injury.
Sean Manaea, who would have been the clear selection to start the Wild Card Game in New York had he been available and not preparing for shoulder surgery, told SFBay:
“It is a little frustrating that injuries were a thing and we happened to have a lot of them. For me personally, it sucks that I couldn’t be out there — that’s all I was thinking in the dugout. Not upset, but I was really wishing I could be out there and helping the team out in some way, that just wasn’t the case.”
Manaea, like Jharel Cotton, A.J. Puk and Andrew Triggs is expected to return at some point in 2019. Joining them, the arrivals of Jesus Luzardo (baseball’s No. 12 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline), James Kaprielian and Grant Holmes are nearly a foregone conclusion.
Offensively, it is a fair expectation to think a team that scored the game’s fourth-most runs (813) and hit its third-most home runs (227) will offer a repeat performance. And a defense anchored by Olson, Platinum Glove third baseman Matt Chapman and Gold Glove hopeful Ramón Laureano is something that many, including Holmes, would be juiced to have behind them.
Pitchers and catchers report to camp in less than three weeks, and the energy around the A’s is palpable.
Cotton, still hoping to break camp with the club, leaned on an ages-old cliche in summing up his team’s expectations and hopes, telling SFbay ‘don’t change what ain’t broke. He added:
“We’re going upwards … these young boys are doing it. Just keep doing what we’re doing.”