The Oakland Athletics made the playoffs in three straight seasons from 2012 to 2014, twice winning 94+ games. In 2015, however, they finished 68-94 and last in the AL West.
The A’s, who have had a mass talent exodus in recent years, head into this season expected to finish last in the division once more.
Not that that bothers them or anything.
“I think the A’s always seem to do well as the underdogs and outperform expectations,” Oakland second baseman Jed Lowrie said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “There’s a lot of young pitching that’s talented. We’re looking forward to them performing well. We’ve got a little bit of a revamped bullpen. That always helps. When you get those leads late in games, you want to be able to win those. To be able to hold those leads is really important.”
Lowrie, 31, played in Oakland in 2013 and 2014, spent 2015 in Houston and returned to the A’s in November. He expects much of the same great leadership from manager Bob Melvin.
“I wasn’t here last year, but Bob came (into spring training) and basically just went back to that 2012 message,” Lowrie said. “Everybody said that team wasn’t going to be any good and they ended up winning the AL West. And then (in) ’13 and ’14, (they) won the division and made the Wild Card game in those two years. So I think (Melvin’s message is to) just believe in the guys around you. Look around. There’s talent in this room. Let’s just go out and play the game the right way.”
Lowrie said that some teams embrace outside expectations, while other teams ignore them.
“I think it just depends,” he said. “I think for the most part, any good baseball team – whether you’re highly touted or you’re the underdog – you’ve just got to focus on what you do in the clubhouse and how you bond as a team. Having high expectations can tear a team apart just as much as having low expectations.”
Either way, the A’s need another masterful season from ace Sonny Gray, who went 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA and 169 strikeouts last season. Gray isn’t big, especially for a righty – he’s listed at 5-10, 190 – but he looks like a perennial All-Star.
How does he do it?
“He’s got the stuff,” Lowrie said. “Obviously if you’re a big frame and you can reach out there and get closer to the plate, it’s going to make you a little harder to hit theoretically, but it doesn’t always play out like that. Sometimes a guy will throw 96, but it’s easy to see. That’s why some guys you see throw 96 get hit and some guys are throwing 91, 92 and are out there getting everybody out. But Sonny in particular, he’s got three plus pitches, can locate well and he comes after you. He challenges you. I think that’s what it takes to be successful on a consistent basis in the Major League.”
Oakland opens the season at home April 4 with a four-game series against the White Sox.