The A’s spent the season’s first month riding a wave of peaks and valleys.
They opened up by losing three of four against the White Sox before hitting the road and sweeping the Mariners. That was followed by a four-game losing streak, which was promptly followed by a six-game winning streak. Out of that, the A’s lost five of their next six.
When the book closed on April, they held a 13-12 record, their third winning April in the past four years. Being that May has gotten off to a wobbly start, let’s turn back the clock and look at the A’s eventful opening month of the 2016 season:
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: The month’s marquee award goes to second baseman Jed Lowrie, who opened his second tour of duty with the A’s by delivering clutch hit after clutch hit. He was the A’s leader in batting average (.314), RBI (13) and hits (27), and he led the American League with a .526 average with runners in scoring position. His shining moment came April 17, when he came off the bench to deliver a pinch-hit, game-tying single off Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera as the A’s rang up a 3-2 victory that ranks among their most memorable of the season to date. Yes, Lowrie committed five errors in the month and his defense leaves something to be desired at times. But his bat was huge for a team that sputtered offensively for much of April.
MOST VALUABLE PITCHER: Everyone knew Ryan Madson would play an important role in the bullpen, but who knew it would be this important, this early? When Sean Doolittle was bit by the early-season homer bug, Madson settled into the closer’s role and went 8-for-8 in save opportunities. Indeed, there’s lots that the rest of the team must do right before the closer even becomes a factor. But the 2015 season showed how disastrous things can go when the bullpen isn’t right. Madson is showing he’s still got nasty stuff at age 35, and it’s playing well in the ninth.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: There was so much attention on how Marcus Semien would fare defensively in his second season with Oakland. But who expected him to be the A’s leading home-run hitter from the No. 9 spot in the order? Semien hit a team-high six long balls in April, and those projections of him as a potential 20-homer man don’t seem far-fetched at all. As a bonus, his glove work looks much improved this season as well.
[RELATED: Semien's power a welcome sign for A's]
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: The belief entering the season was that the A’s batting order would have more depth, providing threats 1 through 9. But look at those batting averages among some of the regulars and semi-regulars in April – Khris Davis (.221), Yonder Alonso (.181), Chris Coghlan (.155), Coco Crisp (.219). Even Semien, despite his power, hit .205 during the month. And if you’ve dismissed batting average as a stat of significance, understand that the A’s also posted the majors’ lowest on-base percentage at .291. Their 62 walks for April were their fewest in the month in Oakland history. It led to the A’s tying for 20th in the majors in runs with 90. More production is needed up and down the lineup, to say the least.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Alonso’s gotten off to a poor start at the plate, but his ninth-inning homer April 29 to beat the Astros gave the A’s their first walk-off win of the season. That came after they erased a 4-2 deficit in the eighth to tie the game. It marked the first walk-off homer of Alonso’s career and his biggest moment yet as an Athletic.
BIGGEST REASON FOR OPTIMISM: As spring gives way to summer, many teams will be seeking ways to acquire starting pitching to shore up their chances for contending. The A’s should have an in-house addition ready to go in just a couple of weeks. Henderson Alvarez , signed during the offseason, is nearing the end of his minor league rehab assignment. If he makes a healthy return from shoulder surgery, the 2014 All-Star could provide a significant shot in the arm. The rotation struggled over the final week of April, but if the A’s can hover around .500 until welcoming Alvarez, he could be a difference-maker.
BIGGEST REASON FOR CONCERN: Last year’s woes at the Coliseum have returned to this point. The A’s went 5-7 at home in April and then lost four in a row at home to start the month of May. They are 8-5 on the road, but it’s hard to envision this team contending if it can’t be a better-than-.500 team in its own ballpark.
NOTES, QUOTES AND ANECDOTES: To wrap up, here’s a collection of snapshots from the month that stick in the memory bank …
--Josh Reddick seems to have found a partner in nuttiness with first-year A’s reliever Liam Hendriks. It turns out both are big fans of Dragon Ball Z, the Japanese anime TV series. Reddick sent away for costumes from the show, and they were waiting at the Coliseum when the A’s returned from their last road trip. Hendriks has been wearing the skin-tight costume of the character Goku around the clubhouse, even out to the field before batting practice on occasion. Reddick’s character is Vegeta.
“Things from our childhood that we still enjoy now,” Hendriks explained.
--“I tell people I was a .400 hitter in high school. I hit .100 as a freshman, .100 as a sophomore … and I added them up.” – starting pitcher Kendall Graveman, after the A’s lost the DH in a game at Yankee Stadium and he became Oakland’s first starter to hit in an American League game since 1975.
--During that same series at Yankee Stadium, a group of A’s players visited the Freedom Tower in Manhattan, site of the rebuilt World Trade Center that was originally destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Major leaguers shuttle between hotels and the ballpark and often live in a bubble on the road. But this experience left its mark. Sean Doolittle’s uncle works in the Freedom Tower’s observatory. “I’m kind of speechless about it, to be honest,” catcher Stephen Vogt said.
--“I think we’re better than this, and I’m not gonna shy away from saying it. I think that we can be better than this team.” -- utility man Chris Coghlan, sharing his thoughts after A’s got swept by the Angels at home in mid-April.
-- “I played in the minor leagues for four years, and I got sick of that really fast. Honestly, I’m just happy to be in the major leagues.” – Mark Canha , after he delivered a game-winning hit at Yankee Stadium, explaining how he’s dealing with his reduced playing time this season.