Expectations for the Oakland Athletics were low before this season. The strength of the American League West, their inexperienced, unproven roster and 87 losses in 2017 all pointed towards an arduous campaign.
The 2018 season has been anything but so far. Oakland are alive and well in the West and registered a 7-3 record on a 10-game road trip against the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays. Beating those three is no mean feat.
While a wildcard spot remains no more than a remote possibility, this season is still a fun on in the bay. The Athletics are far from a write-off, unlike a few others around the majors. Even a season ending before the playoffs can be a successful one.
The highlight so far is obviously Sean Manaea’s no-hitter a few weeks ago. Manaea’s performance away from that special start, though, is every bit as impressive. The leftie’s talent has been known around the league for some time, now he looks to finally be delivering on that. Manaea is stepping up as the leader of the pitching staff after Sonny Gray was traded away last summer.
His ascent to something other than a promising youngster is just a part of this Athletics team. Other less experienced players have stepped up. Daniel Mengden has provided solid innings, showing impressive control, while the line-up has seen the continued growth of slugger Mat Olson, dynamic third baseman Matt Chapman and the start of outfielder Dustin Fowler’s career.
Chapman and Olson are the future of the franchise. The pair could/should be playing the infield corners for the best part of the next decade. Chapman is a highlight reel defender and has shown the potential to become a dominant offensive force. Olson, who mashed 24 homers in 54 games last season, is the modern-day hitter. Plenty of long balls, walks and strikeouts, but an exciting talent nonetheless.
The hope of youth is complemented by some flourishing veterans. Jed Lowrie, Trevor Cahill and Blake Treinen – who arrived in the trade that saw Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson join Washington last season – are playing superbly.
Lowrie is on course to be an All-Star at second, getting on base more than ever and having a power breakout. At 34, Lowrie is 10 years older than his right-side of the infield partner, Olson. Each are having important seasons of their own at quite different stages in their careers. That, perhaps, sums up the Athletics in 2018 perfectly.
Blake "The Witch" Treinen, Absurd 98mph Sinker. 😳🧙♀️ pic.twitter.com/HGLHj08PnE
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 19, 2018
Treinen has settled into the closer role in Oakland. The former National is striking hitters out at an alarming rate with some of the nastiest stuff in baseball. He’s locked down the backend of the bullpen and could quickly be developing into a handy trade chip as the contending teams look to reinforce their relief staff at the deadline.
The Athletics are exceeding expectations right now. This season is not going to end in a World Series trip, but it has, and will continue to be, fun. The combination of developing prospects and overachieving vets makes Oakland a challenging team to face, and one well worth watching.