A’s manager Bob Melvin sat in the dugout before Wednesday’s game, with his offense having the third-most runs and second-most hits this season in the American League, his starting pitchers having the league’s lowest ERA, and his team having outscored opponents by 45 runs.
At the same time, the A’s had committed more errors than any other major-league team, owned the majors’ highest bullpen ERA and had the worst record in games decided by two or fewer runs. Most definitively, the A’s held the worst record in the A.L. and sat last in the division, trailing even a Seattle Mariners team they had outscored by more than a run per game.
“We’re really kind of a tale of two teams,” Melvin said. “We have some big positives – and obviously some negatives that have cost us some games.”
The A’s 4-1 win over the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday was their 81st game, marking the halfway point of the season. They are nine games under .500 at 36-45 – 101/2 games behind the first-place Houston Astros in the A.L. West and 61/2 games out of a wild-card spot. Yet since falling to a season-high 16 games under .500 on May 22, they have gone 22-15, the second-best record in the league during that span.
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Wednesday exemplified the A’s positives outweighing the negatives. Starter Jesse Hahn held a potent Rockies offense to one run on four hits in six innings, improving to 5-2 with a 2.42 ERA over his past eight starts. It was the 19th time in the past 37 games that an A’s starter has allowed no more than one run.
Leadoff hitter Billy Burns, arguably the A’s breakout player during the first half, reached base three times and scored two runs. Josh Reddick and Billy Butler each came through with a two-out RBI hit, with Reddick’s coming in the third inning after two batters made unproductive outs with a runner on third.
The A’s bullpen, a source of frustration most of the first half, contributed three scoreless innings, with Tyler Clippard recording the final four outs for his 14th save. And even the error that has become an almost daily occurrence for the A’s – in this case a poor throw by shortstop Marcus Semien in the third inning, Semien’s 25th and the team’s 77th – did not hurt them, as Hahn retired the next three batters to strand the runner at second base.
“That’s what we have to do to beat a team like that,” Melvin said after the A’s held the Rockies to four runs during the three-game series, winning twice. “We’re not going to go toe-to-toe with them as far as scoring runs.”
Melvin before the game pointed to the bullpen ERA and the error total as two areas the A’s must improve upon in the second half, but said he believes both are trending in the right direction. Bridging the gap between the starting pitcher and Clippard can still be an issue, but Clippard has been a reliable fill-in at closer with injuries limiting Sean Doolittle to one inning in the first half.
Defensively, Melvin said, “We’re still at basically an error-per-game pace, which is very difficult to sustain anything if we’re doing that … especially with as many close games as we play. We’re still working as hard as we can at it. We’ve always felt like we have the ability to be better defensively, we just haven’t been.”
The A’s have benefited from the contributions of some unlikely sources, most notably the rookie Burns, who has assumed the leadoff role with Coco Crisp out and batted .320 with 22 multi-hit games and 16 stolen bases, both of which lead A.L. rookies. In the rotation, Hahn and Kendall Graveman, the A’s least experienced starters, have settled in after tumultuous starts – Graveman is 4-2 with a 2.01 ERA since the A’s demoted him briefly to Triple A and recalled him in May.
“There is reason to be optimistic,” Melvin said. “Yet to sit here and objectively say things are great at this point would not be prudent, because we are (nine) games under .500.”
Some of the A’s numbers, such as their ERA and run differential, suggest their record should be better. But mistakes and shaky bullpen performance have cost them particularly in close games, leading to a majors-worst record of 10-31 in games decided by two runs or fewer. That is one place to start if the A’s – who memorably were 111/2 games out of first place after 81 games in 2012 before rallying to win the division – are going to make another second-half run.
“Obviously we’re not where we want to be through the first 81 games, but we’re also not as far off as we could’ve been,” said catcher Stephen Vogt. “You look at our first month, or just some of the one-run games, take a few of those away and we’re right in the mix.
“But I think you’ve got to feel pretty good, considering where we were, and the way we are playing right now. We’ve got 81 games to make up a lot of ground.”