OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – With Khris Davis slugging in the middle of a young lineup, the Oakland Athletics realize they still have much ground to overcome in a division featuring the World Series champion Houston Astros.
And that’s fine with this group, which is counting on using the momentum from a strong September finish going into spring and a new season.
Last month, Davis received a $10.5 million, one-year contract, more than doubling his salary after he beat the team in arbitration last winter.
He hit a career-best 43 home runs in 2017, connecting on the season’s final day to surpass the season high he set the previous year for Oakland. The 30-year-old is the only A’s player aside from Jimmie Foxx from 1932-34 with consecutive 40-homer seasons.
The A’s won 17 of their final 24 games after trading more stars in favor of the youth movement.
“I’m glad we had the success that we did at the end of the year because we talked about it the last day going into this next season, ‘Remember what’s happening here and feel good about it because we accomplished some good things,'” manager Bob Melvin said.
Davis has some nice complements surrounding him in fellow power-hitting outfielders Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, not to mention the reliable Marcus Semien.
“I like the team we have right now. We finished strong last year,” Semien said. “Last year doesn’t matter though. This is a new year. Nobody cares how we did last year, it’s all about how we perform on opening day and moving forward. We all have that mindset.”
Plagued by more injuries and an ever-changing roster, Oakland (75-87) wound up last in the AL West for the third consecutive season. The A’s won six more games than in 2016.
Here are some things to watch for with the A’s:
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Center fielder Dustin Fowler is ready for his real rookie season and to compete to be the starter as the A’s envisioned when they acquired him.
He hadn’t even had his first major league at-bat for the Yankees when a freak June 29 injury in the first inning of his major league debut ended his year.
The 23-year-old Fowler – who came to the A’s at the trade deadline in the deal that sent Sonny Gray to New York – had been on deck when the top of the first inning ended.
Then, running at full speed, the right fielder crashed into the low corner wall at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field chasing Jose Abreu’s two-out foul. He suffered an open rupture of the patellar tendon in his knee when it hit a metal box used for Wi-Fi, and was carted off for immediate surgery to repair the damage and close the wound.
In December, he sued the White Sox and the state agency that runs the ballpark.
NEW/OLD LOOK: Brandon Moss is back with the A’s. He departed following the 2014 season, played with Cleveland, St. Louis and Kansas City, then was reacquired from the Royals late last month.
THEY’RE SET: Oakland has depth in the outfield, even acquiring Stephen Piscotty from St. Louis and he returns home to the Bay Area as his mother fights Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Davis will be the offensive centerpiece, while Chapman hit 14 homers in 84 games as a rookie and Olson had a remarkable 24 over 59 games.
Davis’ 85 homers the past two seasons are second in the majors to Giancarlo Stanton’s 86. Davis batted .247 with a career-high 110 RBIs in 153 games in 2017.
Semien is eager to play a full season after he underwent right wrist surgery that sidelined him between April 14 and July 6.
“I feel 100 percent. That’s what’s important,” Semien said.
THEY’RE NOT?: After trading away much of the bullpen last season with Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson being dealt to the Nationals, the A’s have Santiago Casilla back for a second season and added do-everything right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, back in the Bay Area after pitching for the Giants from 2012-15 and helping them win two World Series. He can start, he can go long relief. Melvin loves that versatility.
“I’ll be ready for everything,” Petit said.
ON DECK: Oakland will wear alternate kelly green jerseys for Friday home games. The A’s held a fashion show ahead of FanFest last month at the organization’s new Jack London Square headquarters to provide fans a preview.
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