The A’s finished out the month of August just hoping to put the focus back on baseball.
It was a 31-day period in which the spotlight shone far too much on off-field issues pointing to clubhouse dysfunction, from the fight between Billy Butler and Danny Valencia to the discontent of Coco Crisp, which eventually led to the trade of the veteran outfielder to Cleveland.
Oakland finished 10-18 in August due in large part to a sputtering offense, which generated the fewest runs in the majors (96), the third lowest batting average (.235) and the fewest home runs in the American League (28).
But it wasn’t all gloom and doom. Here’s a look back at what went right and wrong for the A’s in the month:
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: The A’s have committed to Ryon Healy at third base, at least through the end of 2016, and he’s taking the opportunity and running with it. He led the A’s regulars with a .303 batting average and .337 on-base percentage in August, and he finished second to Khris Davis with an .842 on base-plus-slugging percentage, a .505 slugging percentage and 50 total bases. So why not give the award to Davis? For one thing, he’s already won two monthly MVP awards and there’s nothing wrong with spreading the wealth a little. But Healy is fitting into this Oakland batting order like he’s been there all season. He also enjoyed a 14-game hitting streak in August that is the longest by an AL rookie this season.
MOST VALUABLE PITCHER: Who would have thought Andrew Triggs would step into a starting role and be as effective as he was? The rookie posted a 2.77 ERA in seven games, four of them starts, and it was as a starter that he really shined in August. He held opponents to a .182 batting average in those four starts with 20 strikeouts and just one walk in 21 2/3 innings. We could have gone with Ryan Madson, who had a strong August. But realistically, how much impact does the closer have in a month when his team only wins 10 games? Reliever Liam Hendriks also had a decent case, but he had a poor outing on the final day of the month, and his numbers were actually more dominant in July.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: -- The A’s pitching staff, particularly the starting rotation, has been riddled with injuries all season. However, the A’s pieced together a decent rotation for the month and posted a 3.88 team ERA that ranked sixth among the 15 AL teams. Sonny Gray and Jesse Hahn both joined the disabled list in August. But Triggs, Ross Detwiler and Zach Neal joined Manaea and Kendall Graveman to hold the things together when it came to a starting five.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Seeing Crisp’s tenure with the A’s end how it did was pretty tough. He was upset about his playing time getting cut in the second half, which assured his $13 million option for next season wouldn’t vest. The A’s defended their decision to sit Crisp by saying they needed to evaluate younger outfielders to see whether they fit into the 2017 equation. Ultimately, Crisp wound up in a good situation in getting traded to Cleveland, his first major league team and the AL Central leader. But it’s too bad Crisp, the longest tenured Athletic at the time he was traded, couldn’t have made it to the season’s finish line in green and gold and felt some deserved love from the home fans.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Graveman made quick work of the Chicago White Sox in a 2-0 victory Aug. 19 at U.S. Cellular Field, his first career shutout. The right-hander polished off a two-hitter in just 2 hours, 23 minutes and faced just one batter over the minimum in doing so.
BIGGEST REASON FOR OPTIMISM: Hendriks has really emerged as an effective bullpen arm since mid-June, and he continued showing strong form through August. The bullpen hasn’t jelled as hoped because of a shoulder injury that kept Sean Doolittle on the DL for two months. But should he prove to be healthy, combined with Hendriks, Madson, John Axford, Ryan Dull and, ideally, a healthy return from Fernando Rodriguez, the A’s have the makings of a solid bullpen core looking ahead to 2017.
BIGGEST REASON FOR CONCERN: One of the A’s biggest season-long shortcomings has been a team-wide inability to get on base enough and create sustained rallies. And that sure makes it hard to score runs consistently. Oakland finished last in the majors with a .292 on-base percentage in August, so it’s not surprising they also brought up the rear in runs scored. This team needs to identify an effective, everyday leadoff man, and that was an issue even before Crisp and Billy Burns were traded.
NOTES AND QUOTES:
“There’s a lot of qualities about Danny that I like. I know it looks like we fought. We do it every day, (just) not to that extent. To say that we’re enemies is not right. And to blame this all on one side is not right either.”
--Billy Butler, addressing the media over his fight with Danny Valencia that left Butler with a concussion.
--A telling fact: The A’s finished August 221⁄2 games out of first place in the AL West. That marked just the third time in Oakland history the A’s have been that many games out of first place before the start of September. The others were 1977 and 1979.
“It’s been impressive. If you had told me he’s gonna shatter his career high in homers moving from Milwaukee, I’d have laughed in your face. He’s making the Coliseum look like a hitter’s park. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, what the pitch is, the situation. You’re always making sure you’re watching when he’s at the plate.”
--Stephen Vogt on the power-hitting prowess of first-year Athletic Khris Davis