Spring training questions: Oakland Athletics

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Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a few of the questions facing each team this spring.
1. Can Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer hold up at the top of the rotation?
Sheets would seem to have the better chance of the two. He hasn’t put in a full season since 2004, but he did make 31 starts in 2008 and he should be completely recovered from the torn flexor tendon in his elbow that cost him last season. It’s important to remember that he’s not coming off major shoulder surgery or Tommy John surgery — he’s a far better bet than most pitchers coming off a missed season. Duchscherer, on the other hand, has never put in a full season as a starter and he has significant back and hip issues to go along with history of arm problems. Also, he missed the end of last season with clinical depression.
If the two pitchers somehow combine to make 55-60 starts, the A’s would have a legitimate chance of reaching the postseason. But while I think Sheets is a reasonable bet to hold up his end of the bargain, I wouldn’t pencil in Duchscherer to make even 20 starts.
2. Will a Rajai Davis-Coco Crisp-Ryan Sweeney outfield hit enough to remain intact?
It should be baseball’s best outfield defensively, but the three players have combined for one 800 OPS season between them and that was Crisp’s 2005. Davis, a big surprise over the final four months of last year, is far from the prototypical left fielder, and Sweeney, while still possessing some upside, has hit 12 homers in 948 major league at-bats. I have the trio projected for 23 homers in 1,453 at-bats this season, and even that might be optimistic.
The A’s do have alternatives, but they traded the two best (Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham) to the Padres for Kevin Kouzmanoff. Jack Cust could log some outfield time if Eric Chavez forces his way into the lineup as a DH. Gabe Gross is an adequate fourth outfielder, and both Eric Patterson and Travis Buck are still in the organization, though perhaps not for much longer. Odds are that the A’s will go with the defense-first alignment to start and then adjust once they struggle to score runs.
3. Will Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez take necessary steps forward and provide the A’s with some much-needed rotation depth?
The Sheets signing would mean there’s only room for one in the rotation, but that depends on everyone getting through the spring healthy. Both should factor heavily into Oakland’s plans. Gonzalez, who has fanned 143 but walked 81 in 132 2/3 innings as a major leaguer, has nothing left to prove in the minors, while Cahill might yet benefit from some Triple-A time. I’m very interested in seeing how Cahill looks this spring after he went through his rookie season without ever showing a consistent breaking ball. He has the greater upside of the two. If both prove capable of holding their own at the bottom of the rotation, the A’s will be better able to withstand injuries. It’s doubtful that Sheets, Duchscherer, Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden will all be healthy at the same time very frequently.

Video: Jonathan Lucroy who? Roberto Perez homers twice in World Series opener for the Indians

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Roberto Perez #55 of the Cleveland Indians hits a three-run home run during the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game One of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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Back in July, then-Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy vetoed a trade that would have sent him to the Indians, helping the club make a significant upgrade behind the plate after losing Yan Gomes to an injury. At the time, Roberto Perez had only played in 11 games, batting .043. Gomes had hit .165 before his injury, and Chris Gimenez batted .202 over 42 games. It was not much of a logical leap to think the Indians would eventually falter due to a lack of production at the catching position.

But here the Indians are in the World Series facing the Cubs. In Game 1 on Tuesday night, Perez — who finished the season with a .183 average and three home runs in 184 plate appearances — drilled a pair of home runs, accounting for four of the six runs the Indians would score in a shutout win over the Cubs.

Perez’s first blast was a solo that that just cleared the left field fence at Progressive Field, coming on an 0-1 fastball from starter Jon Lester. That padded the Indians’ lead to 3-0.

The second homer put the game away, as he punished reliever Hector Rondon for hanging a 2-2 slider with two runners on base, slugging this one enough to clear the left field fence by plenty. That doubled the Indians’ lead to 6-0, the score by which they would eventually win.

Perez is the first catcher to homer twice in a World Series game since Gary Carter did it for the Mets against the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. Perez is the first Indian to homer twice in the same playoff game since Jim Thome in the 1999 ALDS against the Red Sox.

Corey Kluber dazzles as Indians blank Cubs 6-0 in Game 1 of the World Series

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Corey Kluber #28 of the Cleveland Indians throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning in Game One of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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From the moment Kris Bryant struck out looking for the second out of the first inning in Game 1 of the World Series, the Cubs knew Indians starter Corey Kluber brought his A-game and that they were in for a long night. Bryant was Kluber’s second strikeout victim in as many batters and he would go on to strike out eight batters through the first three innings, setting a World Series record.

The Indians, meanwhile, gave Kluber an early cushion, scoring twice in the bottom of the first inning. Francisco Lindor hit a two-out single, then stole second base against starter Jon Lester. Lester proceeded to walk Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana to load the bases. Jose Ramirez brought one run home with an infield single to the left of the pitcher’s mound. The lefty then hit Brandon Guyer with a pitch to force in another run, giving the Indians a 2-0 lead.

The Indians scored one more run in the fourth inning when catcher Roberto Perez snuck a solo home run over the fence in left field, victimizing Lester yet again.

The Cubs struggled to get any kind of momentum going, wasting a leadoff double by Ben Zobrist in the second inning and a two-out double by Kyle Schwarber in the fourth. Through six innings, Kluber yielded only three hits with zero walks and nine strikeouts. He took the mound to start the seventh but departed after Zobrist led off with a single to left field.

Reliever and ALCS MVP Andrew Miller entered the game, but the Cubs seemed to have a better time against him. Schwarber drew a walk and Javier Baez singled to left, loading the bases. At the very least, it seemed, Miller would give up at least one run, if not two. The average team scored two runs with the bases loaded and no outs, according to Baseball Prospectus. But Miller showed why he was named the MVP of the ALCS, getting Willson Contreras to fly out to shallow center. Schwarber thought the ball would drop, so he was way off the second base bag, but center fielder Rajai Davis didn’t notice and fired home to ensure a run didn’t score. Despite the mistake, Miller rebounded by striking out Addison Russell and David Ross to escape the inning with no damage done

Miller returned to the mound for the eighth inning for his second inning of work. After getting Dexter Fowler to fly out, he walked Bryant. Miller got Anthony Rizzo to fly out to shallow center, but Zobrist singled to center to put runners on first and third with two outs. On his 46th pitch of the night, Miller struck out Schwarber to escape the inning.

Perez decided to double the Indians’ lead to 6-0 in the bottom of the eighth. Cubs reliever Justin Grimm walked Guyer and allowed a single to Lonnie Chisenhall, forcing manager Joe Maddon to replace him with Hector Rondon. Rondon hung a 2-2 slider and Perez crushed it, this time clearing the fence by plenty for a three-run homer. He’s the first catcher with two homers in a World Series game since Gary Carter in 1986.

Closer Cody Allen, who thought he was going to be used in a save situation, took over in the top of the ninth. After striking out Baez, Contreras doubled to right field. Allen then struck out Russell as well as pinch-hitter Miguel Montero to end the game in a 6-0 victory for the Indians.

Game 2 of the World Series will start an hour earlier than usual on Wednesday due to forecasted inclement weather late at night. Jake Arrieta will make the start for the Cubs opposite the Indians’ Trevor Bauer.