The fact that the Oakland Athletics are at .500 (43-43) at the All-Star break and are just 2.5 games out of a playoff spot is nothing short of a miracle.
A team that was expected to be in the basement of the AL West instead finds themselves in the midst of fighting for a playoff spot, and they are getting hot at the right time, having won six of their last seven games.
Let’s take a look at some of the bullet points of the first half of the season:
Pitching – A+
To say that the A’s pitching has carried them throughout the season would be an understatement. They rank first in the AL and third in the entire majors in combined ERA (3.38). More accomplishments: The A’s have allowed the least runs (316) and hits (685) in the American League and held their opponents to a meager .239 batting average (also good enough for first in the AL).
The A’s have been spoiled with their terrific young rookies, namely Ryan Cook (25 years), Jarrod Parker (24 years), and Tommy Milone (25 years). All three of them were acquired in trades this past offseason, and boy did GM Billy Beane pull off some great Moneyball-esque deals.
Cook represented the A’s in the MLB All-Star Game in Kansas City, an impressive feat as a rookie. He is currently the A’s closer, and is 2-2 with a stellar 1.41 ERA, good enough for second among AL rookies. Even more amazing, Cook set an Oakland record for most innings without allowing a run to start his career - 23 scoreless frames.
Jarrod Parker has been a work horse for the A’s, and he could be their answer the Giants’ Matt Cain. He reminds me of Cain in so many ways – with the ability to command his pitches and go deep into games. Like Cain, he doesn’t have electrifying “stuff”, but somehow finds a way to get hitters out. He is 5-4 with a 2.86 ERA in the first half, which ranks him third among AL rookie starters.
Then there’s Tommy Milone. He leads the A’s with eight wins (8-6, 3.57 ERA), good enough for second among AL rookies (Yu Darvish). Milone has been lights-out when pitching at home under the Coliseum lights (5-1 with a 1.03 ERA), but has struggled on the road (3-5, 5.98 ERA). If he wants to take the next step and become a truly dominant pitcher, Milone has got to lower that road ERA.
Although we are focusing on just those three guys, it has been a concerted team effort by the entire A’s pitching staff to keep them close to contention. Sean Doolittle, A.J. Griffin, Jim Miller, Brandon McCarthy, and Travis Blackley all have ERAs lower than 2.70.
Hitting – D
How are the A’s only at .500 if they have one of the best pitching staffs in the league? There is only one possible answer to that question: the A’s are the worst hitting team in the entire majors, which off-sets their terrific pitching.
Let’s take a look at the A’s ugly hitting statistics (stop reading if you don’t like torture): worst in the majors in batting average (.225) and hits (645), and worst in the AL in runs (319) and RBI (302). Their OBP (.301), slugging percentage (.365) and OPS (.667) is awful as well, only better than the Seattle Mariners.
Those numbers may sound bad, but there actually have been some bright spots for the A’s in terms of hitting.
Josh Reddick (RF) leads the team with a .268 batting average and 20 home runs. He was acquired in the off-season in a trade that sent closer Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox, a deal that has clearly favored the A’s (Bailey has yet to pitch a game for Boston). Reddick was clearly snubbed from the All-Star team, which he will have to get used to if he plans on staying long term in Oakland. Nonetheless, he has solidified himself in the third slot in the A’s lineup, and has proven to be a solid contributor.
Yoenis Cespedes (LF), the A’s $9 million man, has had an up-and-down first half. The injury bug has plagued him for part of the year, and he has played in just 54 games. He is batting .263 with nine big flies and 36 RBI. Cespedes has definitely proven that he has big-time pop in his bat, but will need to stay healthy and consistent if the A’s are to make a playoff push.
The platoon of Brandon Moss and Chris Carter at first base has been quite an efficient one thus far. Moss was called up in June, and took the league by storm. In just 26 games, he has ten home runs and 18 RBI.
In his short time in the majors, Chris Carter has surely made his presence felt. He is batting .363 with three jacks in six games, including a walk-off three-run shot to beat the Mariners in the eleventh inning.
But other than that, the A’s hitting has been nothing short of just plain awful. Everyday players such as Johnny Gomes, Seth Smith, Brandon Inge, Coco Crisp, Jemile Weekes, Cliff Pennington and Kurt Suzuki have been extremely mediocre at best, with none of them hitting higher than .250. Weekes has been the biggest disappointment thus far, hitting just .222 after a breakout rookie season last year.
If the A’s plan on contending for a wild-card spot in the second-half, they won’t be able to do it if this atrocious hitting keeps up. Believe it or not, the A’s should be buyers at the trade deadline and use some of their prospects to get a middle-of-the-lineup bat or five.
Fielding – B
The A’s fielding have not been an issue this year, which is a relief. They rank in the middle of the pack in fielding percentage (.982) and errors (57), and are in the top-5 in putouts (2320).
Every position player has a fielding percentage of higher than .960, so there isn’t really one particular guy to single out here.
Overall Grade – B-minus
A “B-minus” is a fairly average-mediocre grade, but it’s fair for a team that is at .500. Just to reiterate, the A’s are just 2.5 games out of a playoff spot, which isn’t bad for a team that some projected to lose 100 games this year.
To summarize: great pitching, awful hitting, and average fielding balances the scale. The A’s are a .500 team, and that will have to change if they plan on playing baseball in mid-October.