The Oakland Athletics had high hopes heading into the 2015 season after winning 89 games in 2014, good for a second place finish in the American League West Division and a postseason appearance. The A’s lost to the Kansas City Royals in the 2014 American League Wild Card Game. Through the recent All-Star break, the Oakland’s 41-50 record put them in last place in the AL West, but just 8 ½ games behind the division-leading Angels. The A’s opened 2015 with a 7-23 stretch that lasted until May 22. Since then, the Athletics have the AL’s best record and posted the league’s best first-half Earned Run Average, so there’s reason for optimism for the second half of 2015. In 2012 the A’s were nine games out of first place at the break and came back to capture the division crown.
According to A’s General Manager Billy Beane, “It’ll be really important this first week (after the All-Star break) to see how things go. It’ll be a crucial decision time for us these next couple of weeks.” Beane’s decision whether the A’s are buyers or sellers at the upcoming trading deadline will be based on how his team performs. Left handed starting pitcher Scott Kazmir is rumored to be the leading trade candidate. Kazmir has the AL’s fifth-best ERA at 2.38, but just a 5-5 record and he’ll be a free agent after this season.
Through the first half of the 2015 season there were plenty of highlights for the A’s:
Speedy rookie center fielder Billy Burns hit .304 over the first half of the season and played well in the outfield. Opponents seem to have caught on to his tendency to swing at the first pitch. How he adjusts will be key to his success at the plate the rest of the season.
Starting pitcher Sonny Gray has a 10-3 record and leads the American League in ERA at 2.04. He’s shown that he’s capable of having no-hit stuff every time he takes the mound. In a “poor” outing he gave up five hits and one earned run through seven innings of work. In early July, he spent two days in the hospital with salmonella poisoning, then made a quality start days later against the Yankees. Gray was named to the 2015 AL All-Star Team, but pitched nine shutout innings while giving up just two hits to Cleveland the Sunday before the All Star Game and was ruled out.
Graphic via barfblog
Gray’s battery mate and fellow All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt could become the A’s first Silver Slugger Award winner since 2002. The Silver Slugger Award is goes to the league’s best offensive player at each position in a vote by managers and coaches. Third baseman Eric Chavez was Oakland’s last Silver Slugger recipient.
For the Athletics to get back into contention, several areas need improvement:
Through the first half of 2015 Oakland had the 4th-worst defense in Major League Baseball. Shortstop Marcus Semien’s 28 errors rank third in A’s history for shortstops over an entire season. He’s on pace to commit 49 errors for the season, but has shown steady improvement lately after working with A’s fielding instructor Ron Washington.
The A’s are just 8-22 in one-run games and the bullpen has lost 18 games so far in 2015 (one was officially charged to the starting pitcher when his inherited baserunners were allowed to score by the pen).
Improved defense should go a long way to help the bullpen preserve more victories and could be the key to turning the tide in those one-run games over the season’s second half.
Graphic via mercurynews