With apologies to Dennis Green and his oft-repeated declaration, the A’s are not at all who we thought they were.
For all the spring training analysis, all the hypotheses about what would make or break this team, the A’s were full of surprises over the first half of the 2015 season.
Presumed strengths turned out to be weaknesses. Unexpected players emerged as surprise contributors. And the A’s last-place standing in a wildly unpredictable American League West provided a big-picture shocker.
Here’s a look back at five assumptions we made when the season began, and the unexpected twists that reality wound up dealing:
WHAT WE THOUGHT: The bullpen can hold down the fort until closer Sean Doolittle returns.
HOW IT’S PLAYED OUT: Oakland’s relief corps has been nothing short of a colossal disappointment. Indeed, Doolittle’s absence has been a huge blow. He missed essentially the first two months with a shoulder injury, then appeared in just one game before returning to the disabled list after re-injuring his shoulder. But this was considered one of the AL’s stronger units even without Doolittle. Instead, a revolving door of pitchers has been auditioned in important late-inning roles, only to stumble and fall back down the totem pole. The bullpen’s 4.32 ERA is second worst in the league to Texas’ 4.38, and the 12 blown saves are tied for second most.
WHAT WE THOUGHT: After Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, the A’s rotation could endure some growing pains.
HOW IT’S PLAYED OUT: The starting staff has been the team’s biggest bright spot so far, with an AL-best 3.01 ERA. The A’s also lead the league with 12 shutouts, and the starters obviously play a major role in that. Gray and Kazmir have been as terrific as could be hoped. But the most encouraging development has been the emergence of young right-handers Kendall Graveman and Jesse Hahn (though Hahn’s ability to return from a strained forearm and remain productive is a big second-half key). Though he’s stumbled of late, Jesse Chavez was in top form for much of the first half.
WHAT WE THOUGHT: The A’s defense will be more reliable than the 2014 version.
HOW IT’S PLAYED OUT: Oakland leads the majors with 82 errors, and the next closest team isn’t visible in the rear-view mirror. The infield defense in particular was supposed to be improved, with more athleticism and range. But Marcus Semien has struggled all season and is well on pace to break the Oakland single-season record for errors by a shortstop. Third baseman Brett Lawrie’s highlight-reel worthy play has been offset somewhat by 12 errors, tied for second most in the AL at his position. First baseman Ike Davis missed a major chunk of time with injury, and his defensive skills have yet to make a big impact. To be fair, the A’s have played stretches of great defense. But too many times the errors have seemed contagious, and some innings have flat-out been tough to watch.
WHAT WE THOUGHT: A healthy Coco Crisp will be needed to kick the offense into gear.
HOW IT’S PLAYED OUT: Enter rookie Billy Burns. The switch-hitting center fielder has been an electrifying presence in the leadoff spot. Entering spring training, it appeared Burns would benefit from a full season at Triple-A. But he had a terrific camp, and with Crisp having appeared in just 13 games due to elbow and neck injuries, Burns has assumed leadoff duties and emerged as one of the AL’s best rookies. He’s hitting .303 and his 17 stolen bases are tied for second in the league. Among AL rookies, Burns is the leader in hits (82) and steals and ranks second in runs (38), even though he’s played in just 63 of the A’s 91 games.
[RELATED: Burns making case for AL Rookie of the Year]
WHAT WE THOUGHT: The A’s will have the roster depth and flexibility to give the Angels and Mariners a run for their money in the AL West.
HOW IT’S PLAYED OUT: Who could have predicted the division storyline to this point? The Astros, thought to be a year or so away from true contention, occupied first place for most of the first half, though they’ve struggled of late and have relinquished first place to the Angels. Seattle, seen as division favorites by many after they added Nelson Cruz, sits in fourth place with a disappointing 41-48 record. Texas, in third place, has been good enough to entertain thoughts of being trade deadline buyers.
The A’s, at 41-50, are stuck in last place at the All-Star break for the first time since 2009. Veterans such as outfielder Craig Gentry and reliever Ryan Cook, expected to be key contributors, have spent a majority of the season in the minors. Predictable stuff? Hardly. And perhaps that’s the lesson here. If your hopes for the A’s aren’t sky-high for the second half, just look back on the first half for proof that things don’t always stick to script with this team.