Spring Training comes to its finish line as Opening Day is less than a week away. That being said, we don't have to wait until then to witness some entertaining baseball, as Tuesday's battle between the A's and the Chicago Cubs will definitely be worth watching. If not for anything else, it's always nice to get to know the team we will face in October, right?
Well, to be honest, between those two teams it's the Cubs who have a better odds of reaching the Fall Classic. Way better. Like, it's not even close. To be exact, the Cubs are actually the biggest favorite to win it all this year, with Vegas odds currently standing at 9/2. A's, on the other hand, beat only six teams (all from NL) in terms of likelihood of winning the Worls Series, with odds at 80/1. And although I certainly realize that's kind of a long shot, who does not believe, doesn't achieve anything. So even though I know that practically everything would have to go the right way from start to finish, and that it's not all that likely, one can dream, right? So here's to A's vs. Cubs World Series 2016, with Rich Hill making a miracle comeback to win Game 7. Did I go too far? Apolozies, I like to dream big.
As each team's roster takes shape, the Cubs, when they're not fighting bees or something, are also finalizing their 25-man squad. The pitching rotation looks to be all set, with NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta followed by Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks. But if recent updates from the Cubs' camp are true, the decision was still not made whether to go with 12 or 13 pitchers. Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Trevor Cahill, Adam Warren, Travis Wood and Clayton Richard should be locks, so the only question remains Neil Ramirez, who is out of options, but has not exactly helped himself with a 10.50 ERA this spring.
Another question mark looms over head of Javier Baez, who has not played in a game since March 20 because of a sprained left thumb. He was expected to fill a role of an utility player, but now his availability for the start of regular season is unclear. And while it's definitely nice to have such a Brad Miller-type player like Ben Zobrist, or even Tommy LaStella and Kris Bryant, who are all able to play multiple positions, or players like Jorge Soler hidden on your bench, the final shape of the position player part of the roster has not been set.
It's safe to say that some players from respective teams know each other pretty well. It's probably also safe to say that seeing some guys currently playing for the Cubs still hurts a little. Speaking of you, Addison Russell, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel. While Russell, sporting a new number 27 after an arrival of Jason Heyward, certainly did not do anything wrong, and while I still think that blockbuster trade made sense, even if we clearly overpaid, it will still hurt to see him (likely) evolve into a star. And if you don't want to think about "that game", which I'd totally understand, I strongly recommend you skipping now onto the next paragraph. As you probably know, Jon Lester started the Wild Card Game against the Royals in 2014. As you also probably know, Jon Lester, acquired to deliver in a game just like that, well, he didn't. He allowed 6 runs, was totally unable to control the running game and while the offense scored well enough runs to win a playoff game, somehow Oakland didn't win. And while Dan Otero is the losing pitcher, it was Jason Hammel who threw the final pitch, which was hit down the 3rd base line past diving Josh Donaldson. The Royals advanced and went to 2 World Series appearances in a row, winning the second time. A's won 68 games last year. And the rest, like they say, is history.
But enough about that. We should also see Ben Zobrist, who brought us Sean Manaea, and maybe even Aaron Brooks, who we sent to Chicago for Chris Coghlan in a pretty good trade in my eyes.
Before he'll take the ball facing Chris Sale and his White Sox in the regular season opener, our ace Sonny Gray will pitch in his final Spring game on Tuesday. And if you're already feeling not so confident about dealing with Chris Sale, today we'll try our luck against probably even batter pitcher, last year's NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta. While Zack Greinke had a slightly better ERA at the end of a year, Arrieta helped himself with absolutely incredible dominance in the second half, pitching to a 0.75 ERA after an All-Star Break. But even he is only a human, demonstrated by his 8.53 ERA this spring, or even more by the fact that Eric Sogard is 1-for-2 with a homerun in his career against Arrieta.
Cubs' skipper Joe Maddon sends a strong lineup to the field, with only Kris Bryant and Dexter Fowler getting a day off. Athletics counter with a lineup full of players with a lot to fight for.
#Cubs lineup: Schwarber LF Heyward CF Zobrist 2B Rizzo 1B La Stella 3B Montero C Russell SS Szczur RF Arrieta P— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 29, 2016
New #Athletics lineup, Burns now in: pic.twitter.com/IiYAI9rhLW— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) March 29, 2016
What to watch for
- Sonny Gray has not pitched well this spring and while the expectation still is he should be ready and in full strengt for the opener, the A's will definitely monitor him closely.
- Matt Chapman continues to get opportunities to impress and is doing just that - he will get another start at third.
- Mark Canha got help in injury suffered by Sam Fuld, but he still needs to hit to show he belongs on an Opening Day roster.
- Andrew Lambo has put himself in a good position with his hot spring bat, and even though he'll probably start the year in Triple-A, he's earned a pretty quick promotion if someone gets hurt or struggles.
- It will be definitely interesting to see Matt Olson manning right field for the first time this spring, where the A's still hope the top prospect could play long-term.
- Marcus Semien has come a long way since the start of last season, but still isn't a finished product at shortstop and every ball hit to the left side of an infield is definitely worth watching.
- Billy Butler swings the bat pretty well so far, and every improvement would really help Athletics.
- Coco Crisp was batting leadoff and playing center field according to an original lineup, but was replaced later on by Billy Burns. Melvin says it's only a mild hamstring tightness, but with Crisp's injury history, one has to wonder if another roster spot just opened to start the year.
- Ryan Madson and John Axford, two prized winter bullpen signings, are yet to allow a run this spring. Fernando Rodriguez, another projected piece of an Opening Day bullpen, allowed only one run in 10.1 innings of work. Mark Rzepczynski, another new face in a green and gold, has pitched to a solid 4.05 ERA. All of them should pitch in this game.
I would like to thank AN for this awesome opportunity, it's a great community in here and I'm happy to be a part of it. For me personally it's really helpful, as here in Czech Republic not many people watch MLB and I don't actually know another A's fan in person. That being said, English is not really my first language, so even though I hope my skill level is pretty decent and everything will be understandable for you, I apologize if that's not the case and I will certainly appreciate every correction or advice. Go A's!