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Opening Day Questions: Can the Oakland A's Work Their Magic Again?

The good and bad news about the defending AL West champs.

Nobody does it like the Oakland A's do it. Last year, the guys in green and gold had the wackiest, most exciting team in all of baseball, capped off by a ridiculous Cinderella run to complete a division-winning comeback. In 2013, they can't sneak up on anyone, but do they have what it takes to win another AL West title? Cab the young pitching continue to improve? Will Billy Beane finally get over the playoff hump? Here are three reasons to be excited and three to be nervous for the A's 2013 season.

Reasons to be excited:

1. The Cuban Missile
Did you see Yoenis Cespedes' home run last Thursday? No? Well, you're in luck. With a full season under his belt, the Cuban left fielder might just make a sneaky run at AL MVP honors. Known not just for his power, but his speed on the bases and increasing defensive prowess, Cespedes has all the makings of a breakout season.

2. The Hapless Astros
Sure, the Angels added Josh Hamilton to an already-potent lineup, and the Mariners could make an Oakland-esque run in 2013. But what every team in this division should be salivating about is that the hapless Houston Astros have joined the mix. With a Major League team largely made of prospects, the Astros are built to lose this year. And the A's are playing them 19 times this season. Bring your brooms, people.

3. Oakland is Magic
Both Bay Area teams experienced their own kinds of magic in 2012, but the A's had something really unique. The camaraderie in the clubhouse, unbelievable walk-off wins, and the creation of the Bernie-lean movement (if you aren't planning on attending the June 29th "Coco Lean" bobblehead giveaway, get that fixed immediately) all lent themselves to the mystic aura of the A's. Will the A's continue to be that cool kid everyone adores? And will they continue to play wildly well? It's too soon to tell, but A's fans should be lining up to see for themselves.
 

Reasons to be nervous:

1. Sophomore Slumps
What happens if the A's stalwart pitching staff was really just overperforming last season? There is something to the theory--second-year players have been known to to struggle, especially after good rookie years. Part of the reason those guys (Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, and A.J. Griffin) were so successful  is that no Major League hitter had seen them before. Now that opposing teams have tape on these guys and know what to expect, the A's rotation really has to step up its game again in 2013. This team is built on pitching, and if that foundation crumbles, the A's could be in trouble.

2. A Busy Trainer's Room 
The bane of any professional sports organization's existence has attacked the A's this spring. The injury bug has already taken down Hiroyuki Nakajima, Adam Rosales, Brett Anderson, Grant Balfour, and Fernando Rodriguez. Luckily, the A's made moves to get some infield depth this off season (though new addition Jed Lowrie has a long injury history of his own) to stop the bleeding for now. But Anderson, the team's ace, is seemingly always injured, as is center fielder Coco Crisp. Even a player built like a tank, Cespedes, had his share of injury issues a year ago. 

3. Killer Competition
Not only did the division rival Angels and Mariners improve this year, but the AL Central's Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians, and Tigers all got better. As did the AL East's Toronto Blue Jays. Factor in the always-dangerous Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, and New York Yankees, and we're looking at 10 potential playoff teams in the American League. And five playoff spots. The odds aren't great.

 

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