Oakland Athletics' Matt Chapman and Khris Davis congratulate Stephen Piscotty after hitting a three-run homer against the Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Oakland Athletics: Bernstein predicts the 2019 season

In a polarized American League where most teams are either excellent or abysmal, the 2019 Oakland A’s could be the rare group that fits somewhere in the middle.

Coming off 97 wins and its first playoff berth since 2014, Oakland has the firepower to claim a wild-card spot for the second straight year and challenge the Astros for the division, but a barren rotation and dependency on relievers to pitch at an elite level remain causes for concern. Vegas projects about 84 wins for the A’s, while advanced statistics model PECOTA projects 79 wins.

Making the playoffs should be the goal for a team led by budding star Matt Chapman and a well-rounded lineup. Even so, it’s important to remember the A’s still have several high-upside prospects developing in the minor leagues who should complement the current core in the near future. The ceiling for this roster likely won’t come until 2020 or 2021, making anything positive that happens in 2019 an added bonus.

Best-case scenario: Boosted by midseason emergences of rookie starting pitcher Jesus Luzardo and catcher Sean Murphy, the A’s continue to get better as the year progresses, coming together down the stretch to earn a wild card spot. Last year’s lineup stalwarts Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Khris Davis and Stephen Piscotty continue to mash, while up-and-comers Ramon Laureano and Dustin Fowler solidify themselves as above-average big-league players. Even without ace Sean Manaea, the A’s rotation proves solid, getting productive seasons from Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers to go along with a Rookie of the Year campaign from Luzardo. Like it was in 2018, the bullpen locks down late leads on a nightly basis. This time, though, Oakland wins its wild card game matchup against the second-place team in the American League East, advancing to its first ALDS since 2013.

Worst-case scenario: Everything we thought we could count on about these A’s ends up misguided. Chapman continues to struggle with the injuries that led to offseason surgeries on his right thumb and left shoulder, and the rest of the lineup underperforms its high expectations. In particular, the catcher spot becomes a black hole, with the organization unable to replace Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate. Relievers Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino, who had been so reliable in 2018, regress and lose confidence, exposing a below-average starting rotation and cementing a middling third-place finish in the division.

X-factor: Jesus Luzardo. After dominating minor-league hitters in 2018, Luzardo appears primed to reach the majors soon. In order to make the playoffs, the A’s and their spotty rotation likely need the 21-year-old hurler to make an impact similar to Sonny Gray in 2012 and 2013. No pressure, kid.

Offseason additions: Jurickson Profar, Chris Herrmann, Joakim Soria, Jerry Blevins, Marco Estrada, Nick Hundley

Offseason losses: Emilio Pagan, Jeurys Familia, Edwin Jackson, Trevor Cahill, Kendall Graveman, Jed Lowrie, Jonathan Lucroy

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