1. Can the starters keep it up? – The rotation has been the A’s best asset, posting the lowest ERA in the American League, but it’s showing signs of wear. Jesse Hahn has been shut down with a forearm strain, Scott Kazmir left his last start early with triceps tightness, and Jesse Chavez has a 6.55 ERA over his last four starts. Sonny Gray is a deserved All-Star, and rookie Kendall Graveman has pitched much better since spending a month in Triple A, but questions face the unit. Among them: Will Kazmir still be in an A’s uniform after the July 31 trade deadline? And will A.J. Griffin, returning from Tommy John surgery, help the rotation this season?
2. Is Billy Burns for real? – The emergence of Burns as the everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter was arguably the highlight of the A’s first half. Not expected to join the team until roster expansion in September, Burns took over the role vacated by injury-prone Coco Crisp and leads A.L. rookies in hits, infield hits and stolen bases. As those numbers suggest, he’s primarily a slap hitter who relies heavily on his speed, yet the approach hasn’t stopped working since the A’s called up Burns in May. It’s unclear how much Oakland can expect out of Crisp this season. But in his replacement, they might have a surprise Rookie of the Year candidate.
3. Will Marcus Semien end year as A’s shortstop? – The A’s have remained patient and committed to Semien, who leads the majors in errors and seems to have fought a case of the throwing yips. One reason the A’s traded for Semien during the offseason was to have a young shortstop under team control for several years, and little has suggested they are doubting their investment. Though the error total continues to rise, manager Bob Melvin has argued that Semien has improved. One positive is that Semien hasn’t carried his defensive issues into the batter’s box, where he’s well on pace for double-digit home runs.
4. Will this team look different in August? – Despite the A’s poor first-half record, general manager Billy Beane has not made any any moves to suggest he’s shifting the focus from this year to next season. Reports have pointed to Kazmir and Ben Zobrist as potential trade targets for contenders, though Zobrist said before the break that his focus is on helping the A’s. Last year, Beane used July to go all in on the A’s season, acquiring starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester. This time, he could be a seller rather than a buyer.
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5. Will Barry Zito start a game in the second half? – Go on, admit you’re curious. If the A’s are in contention, it’s highly unlikely they’ll promote Zito from Triple A, where he has a 3.60 ERA. But if they’re out of the race when rosters expand in September, what will they have to lose? Zito last pitched in the majors in 2013 and for the A’s in 2006. If nothing else, it would be a feel-good story should the A’s continue to struggle.