How the Athletics are chasing the Astros

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Jed Lowrie
OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Jed Lowrie /
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The Astros will have quality competition within the division in 2018.

Despite a lack of noteworthy success the past few seasons, the Oakland Athletics could be a sneaky good team next year. No, seriously. The Astros, like the rest of the division, could have issues with Oakland.

Per the Fangraphs projections, the A’s are expected to be 77-85 in 2018. That is currently one game worse than the Rangers (78-84) and four games worse than the Mariners (81-81). The Angels are projected for an 88-74 record, but their win projection will likely increase once Shohei Ohtani’s projections are fully captured given the complexity of his playing time situation. And the Astros are still projected to finish 97-65 next season.

As one could tell from above, there is not much separating the A’s, Rangers and Mariners in terms of projected wins and losses. Unlike the Rangers and Mariners though, the A’s could be on more of an upswing. And that could start next season.

For example, the A’s finished last season with a record of 75-87. Their first-half record was 39-50. Oakland’s offense in the first half of the season posted a 4.4 fWAR and 95 wRC+, which was 27th overall. That’s, um, not good.

However, the offense made a turnaround in the second half with an 11.5 fWAR and 110 wRC+. In terms of fWAR, the A’s offense was actually better than the Astros in the second half (10.9 fWAR).

Surprising, right?

Part of this noticeable improvement was due to the emergence of Matt Chapman and Matt Olsen for the A’s. Also, both Khris Davis and Jed Lowrie had impressive second halves. Oakland’s second half record? 36-37. Improvement was made.

In terms of notable moves, the A’s have traded Ryon Healy to the Mariners, acquired outfielder Stephen Piscotty from the Cardinals and signed reliever Yusmeiro Petit. Billy Beane also acquired Ramon Laureano from the Astros. Oakland probably won’t acquire much more help on the free agent market. The idea of another notable trade or two shouldn’t be dismissed, but it is rather doubtful at the same time.

The pitching staff will likely be Oakland’s achilles heel. The staff is currently projected for a 9.9 fWAR next season.

Next: Astros: Taking inventory before 2018

The A’s growth will continue to come from within. If the pitching staff led by Sean Manaea can outperform it’s projection, the A’s could be a sneakily good ball club. Alas, Oakland will likely be chasing the Astros again in 2018.

**Statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference**