Before the A’s left for their final trip of the first half, manager Bob Melvin said the team’s goal was to get their record as close to .500 as possible.
“We feel like we’re a team that could do just about anything once we get deeper into the season,” Melvin said.
But the A’s find themselves no closer to .500 coming out of the break than they were when Melvin spoke those words in Oakland. Winning their last two games in Cleveland gave the A’s a 41-50 record at the season’s ceremonial halfway point, their .451 winning percentage the worst in the American League. Despite spurts of good play, the A’s have been unable to mount a sustained run and have remained at least seven games under .500 every day since May 7.
Yet the A’s aren’t entirely out of the playoff race for two reasons. First, they have recovered somewhat from a terrible start to compile the best record in the A.L. West since May 23 at 27-20. Second, no team in the A.L., except perhaps the Kansas City Royals, has created any separation entering the second half. Outside of the 52-win Royals, every A.L. team has between 41 and 49 wins.
Melvin is mystified that the A’s are at the bottom of that spectrum. Oakland’s starting pitchers had the lowest ERA in the league during the first half at 3.01. Their lineup produced the fifth-most runs in the A.L. and fifth-best batting average. Overall, the A’s have outscored their opponents by 44 runs.
But in other areas, the A’s have been woefully deficient. Their bullpen for most of the first half had the highest ERA in the league, though its current 4.32 mark is slightly better than the Texas Rangers’ 4.38. They have committed 82 errors in 91 games, 13 more than the majors’ next-highest total.
Those issues have contributed to a confounding lack of success in close games – an area in which recent A’s teams had thrived. This year, they have the majors’ worst record in one-run games at 8-22, on pace to set an Oakland-era record, and were winless in extra-inning games until improving to 1-6 last week in New York. The celebratory pies in the face following walk-off wins at home – a fixture of recent seasons – have been few and far between.
General manager Billy Beane overhauled the roster before the season, and some notable acquisitions perhaps have not met expectations. Billy Butler and Ike Davis, acquired to anchor the middle of the A’s lineup, have combined for just 10 homers and 58 RBIs. Ben Zobrist missed a month following knee surgery and is batting .261 with 31 RBIs. In addition, leadoff hitter Coco Crisp has played in just 13 games amid myriad injuries.
8-22 A’s record in one-run games
The bullpen woes, meanwhile, were exacerbated by the absence of closer Sean Doolittle, who made one first-half appearance and is on the 60-day disabled list with a shoulder strain. The A’s have struggled to find the right formula in the bullpen, particularly in the seventh and eighth innings, using 16 different relievers in the first half.
Catcher Stephen Vogt was one of the majors’ breakout players, hitting 14 home runs and driving in 56 runs while earning his first All-Star selection. Billy Burns surprised the A’s by settling in to the leadoff spot in Crisp’s absence, and Josh Reddick has the fifth-most RBIs (51) among A.L. outfielders. Sonny Gray earned his first All-Star nod by recording the lowest ERA (2.04) of any A.L. starter, capping his half with a complete-game shutout of the Indians last Sunday.
As tumultuous as their season has been, the A’s have hope entering the second half. Following their series in Cleveland, Melvin told reporters it was a “really good note for us to finish the first half on” and that “hopefully we can have some time for some good feeling to sink in.”
It’s sustaining those good feelings that has been a problem for the A’s in 2015. Their ability to do so over the next two weeks may determine whether Beane keeps this team intact past the July 31 trade deadline.