A’s in position to contend once again 

click to enlarge Closer Grant Balfour gave the team a scare when he required arthroscopic knee surgery at the start of camp, but he was back pitching in spring games March 21 and will be on the Opening Day roster. - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Images File Photo
  • Closer Grant Balfour gave the team a scare when he required arthroscopic knee surgery at the start of camp, but he was back pitching in spring games March 21 and will be on the Opening Day roster.

Spring training revealed that the 2013 A’s will be much like last season’s division-winning club in at least one respect: There is great depth, and even greater versatility.

Will the A’s ability to run numerous players out at numerous positions, mixing and matching at will, translate into another postseason run? The roster potentially is even better than last year’s, with the additions of Chris Young and Jed Lowrie, but like 2012, the real key for Oakland will be pitching, and the A’s remains a major team strength.

Best of all for Oakland, all the projected big-league pitchers came through the spring healthy, or relatively so. Closer Grant Balfour gave the team a scare when he required arthroscopic knee surgery at the start of camp, but he was back pitching in spring games March 21 and will be on the Opening Day roster.

Starter Brett Anderson, who will oppose Seattle’s Felix Hernandez on Opening Day, came out with a trapezius strain eight pitches into one early spring appearances, but he did not miss a start. Anderson was sensational after returning from Tommy John surgery in August, going 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA and a .225 opponents’ average, but he missed the final two weeks with an oblique strain. The A’s need Anderson to remain fully healthy this season because he is now the leader of the young rotation, which also includes Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin.

With Balfour healthy, the A’s bullpen is expected to be one of the best in the league. Ryan Cook, the right-handed setup man, and Sean Doolittle, the lefty setup man, both have a year (or almost a year in Doolittle’s case) of experience, and the club is loaded with lefty options in general, including Jerry Blevins and Jordan Norberto.

Young might be the most difficult acquisition for manager Bob Melvin to work into the lineup, considering the team has a full outfield already, with Yoenis Cespedes — a potential MVP candidate — Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick, who earned a Gold Glove in right field last season. Young will fill in at all three spots and will DH along with outfielder Seth Smith.

Overall, the A’s are feeling good about themselves, healthy and versatile and with more experience for their young pitchers and Cespedes. They might not surprise anyone this season in the very tough AL West, but they feel as if they have the right personnel, and plenty of it, to get the job done.

Previewing the rest of the AL West

Angels:

There will be plenty of power in Los Angeles with free-agent pickup Josh Hamilton providing punch behind AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout and slugger Albert Pujols. Starting pitching could be an issue, especially if either ace Jered Weaver or No. 2 C.J. Wilson get hurt. How Trout follows up his remarkable rookie season will be key.

Astros:

Only the second team since the 1903 American League-National League merger to jump leagues, Houston will have plenty of problems regardless of who it plays. The Astros will have an Opening Day payroll of  around ?$25 million and will probably lose at least 110 games (they were 55-107 last year).

Mariners:

With Felix Hernandez’s financial future secure (seven years, $175 million), Seattle needs some offense to produce wins. Adding Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse will help an offense that had the worst batting average in the majors and the fourth-fewest runs scored. But can the M’s find enough table-setters?

Rangers:

Chaos might as well be the keyword in Texas after Josh Hamilton and Michael Young left and team president Nolan Ryan seems to be on his way out, too. This after a dramatic collapse to end the season. The rotation is solid, with Yu Darvish likely improving in his second season, while the lineup still has plenty of thump.— The Sports Xchange

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