“When we put Marcus out at shortstop that first year, no one would have thought we were focusing on defense. He turned himself into a Gold Glover and M.V.P. candidate.”
Semien, who finished third in voting for the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award last year, behind the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Astros’ Alex Bregman, came to Oakland from the Chicago White Sox after the 2014 season for pitcher Jeff Samardzija. The A’s had traded their best prospect, shortstop Addison Russell, to the Cubs for Samardzija, and Semien seemed to be a downgrade when he made 35 errors in his first season with Oakland.
Over time, though, he has outshined Russell, who is unsigned after serving a suspension for domestic violence last season. Semien — who made just 12 errors last year — improved his defense with help from the former A’s coach Ron Washington. Semien grew as a hitter by learning to be more selective. He said Oakland’s approach might be an advantage as the Astros cope with a lower-tech reality.
“I like our chances with all the new rules that may be coming out, because we don’t use much,” Semien said. “We just use the trends that a pitcher may have, the percentages, all the old-school stuff. We’re not in the video room looking for every little tip, we’re just out there playing ball.”
As usual, the A’s will have to be creative. Two electrifying starters, the left-handers Jesus Luzardo, 22, and A.J. Puk, 24, each worked less than 60 professional innings last season, and both have had Tommy John surgery. The A’s have no strict limits on them — “I’ll just keep throwing till they say no,” Puk said — but could use a six-man rotation at times, with Chris Bassitt joining Fiers, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas and the rookies.
Manaea started the wild card game last October, when the A’s removed the tarps from their upper decks and crammed 54,005 fans into the Coliseum. He faced only 10 Tampa Bay batters, allowed three home runs, and the A’s absorbed a numbing 5-1 loss.