The month of June began with great optimism for the A’s, as they rang up a fifth consecutive win on the first of the month and were eyeing an upward climb in the American League West standings.
The script obviously didn’t unfold as planned, as they couldn’t ride that momentum into any sort of sustained roll and wound up going 11-15 in June. The A’s were 7 ½ games out of first place when the month began but ended it 15 ½ back. That marked their third-largest deficit in the AL West at the end of June since divisional play began in 1969.
Not that the month was without its share of highlights. We hand out some awards and take a look back at the A’s best (and not-so-best) moments from June …
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: When Billy Beane and Bob Melvin predicted Marcus Semien had 20-homer power, it seems they were selling him short. He already had 17 before the A’s even reached the halfway point of their season. Simply put, Semien is developing into one of the major leagues’ top run producers at his position. He broke out in June for a team-leading six home runs and 19 runs scored, to go with a .273 batting average and 17 RBI, which finished one behind Khris Davis for the team lead. Semien’s 17 homers overall lead American League shortstops and his 43 RBI ranked third entering Monday. He’s cut down his errors drastically and has improved his batting average and RBI totals steadily in all three months so far this season.
MOST VALUABLE PITCHER: You hardly notice his dominance because he’s not piling up saves in the ninth inning. But Ryan Dull has been nothing short of outstanding in the A’s bullpen, and he continued to mow through hitters all through June, allowing just one earned run in 13 games for a 0.71 ERA in the month. He struck out 14, walked just two and surrendered only five hits in 12 2/3 innings. The rookie has become Melvin’s go-to guy to call upon with runners on base. Entering Tuesday, Dull had stranded all 36 inherited runners he’s had this season, the best start ever in that category in the majors dating back to 1961.
[STIGLICH: Record-setting Dull thrives under pressure]
BIGGEST SURPRISE: His minor league numbers were phenomenal, but who expected Daniel Mengden to step right into the A’s rotation and acquit himself so well against big league hitters? At first it was the handlebar mustache and crazy windup that had people talking. It didn’t take long to learn Mengden could flat-out pitch. In four June starts, the right-hander allowed just eight earned runs and 21 hits while striking out 26 in 25 2/3 innings. The only shame is that the 23-year-old netted just one victory over those first four starts of his career. But Mengden is showing signs that he might be a long-term fixture in Oakland’s rotation.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: The A’s seemingly had a favorable stretch of schedule as the month of June opened. From June 1-12, they played nine games against Minnesota, Houston, Milwaukee and Cincinnati, all teams with sub-.500 records at the time. Oakland wound up going just 2-7 over this period, as the offense short-circuited far too often. The A’s began this stretch tied for third in the AL West but finished it in last place and 12 ½ games off the pace.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: If it’s pitching you love – or a neat, tidy scorebook – then the June 28 game between the A’s and Giants wasn’t for you. If it was out-of-control offense and an unexpected hero you wanted, you had to like Oakland’s 13-11 victory that tied the record for the highest-scoring game in Bay Bridge Series history. The A’s trailed 8-5 when they rallied for five runs in the eighth, the highlight being Jake Smolinski’s pinch-hit three-run homer that put the A’s ahead for good. Smolinski spent the first seven innings on the bench, but these are the types of role players who bust out and make rivalry games so special.
BIGGEST REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The youth and talent in the starting rotation. Mengden and Sean Manaea have both shown flashes that they can be very good big league pitchers, and they’ll get the chance to continue developing over the final three months of the regular season. True, if things would have played out as the A’s planned for their rotation – i.e., had Jesse Hahn performed and others like Chris Bassitt and Henderson Alvarez been healthy – Manaea and Mengden would still be in the minors. But things are what they are, and barring a surprising charge into postseason contention, the A’s priority should be evaluating their top young talent to find out who they might be able to build with moving forward. Manaea, Mengden (and perhaps Dillon Overton) could certainly be part of that core.
BIGGEST REASON FOR CONCERN: When spring training began, the A’s felt they had the experience, talent and depth to compete in the AL West. Injuries and poor play have dragged them down to the point that it’s tough to justify keeping this entire group together past the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. That means even if the A’s start winning games, the momentum could be halted by a series of trades similar to what happened last summer. It’s the cold, hard reality for a team that has faced a double-digit deficit in the standings by the Fourth of July in each of the past two seasons.
NOTES, QUOTES AND ANECDOTES:
-- “That was the funnest game I’ve been part of in a long time, maybe minus just the two clinching games of the World Series." – Ryan Madson, after his two-inning save in a come-from-behind 13-11 win over the Giants on June 28.
-- “Up here, you can’t be working on stuff. You’ve just gotta get out here and compete, kind of take your mind out of it. Almost pitch stupid out there.” – Eric Surkamp, talking about the mental side of things after a June 19 start against the Los Angeles Angels.
-- It hasn’t been the smoothest of seasons for right-hander Sonny Gray. Things lightened up for him, however, during the A’s Community Fund Golf Classic on June 20. Gray was part of the five-player team that won the scramble tournament. The following night, he threw six solid innings against the Brewers and proudly displayed his trophy from the tournament, a baseball bat enclosed in a glass case.
-- “I was walking off the field, looking into the stands, seeing my family. It almost makes your eyes want to water a little bit. It’s just a surreal feeling. I’m an extremely blessed young man.” – Dillon Overton, after winning his major league debut June 25 at Angel Stadium.
-- Melvin still has a little bit of kid in him. While going for a pregame run around AT&T Park during the Bay Bridge Series, he took a detour and went for a slide down the giant Coke bottle that sits out beyond the left field wall. It was an enjoyable two days all-around in San Francisco as the A’s won both games against the rival Giants. No doubt the A’s skipper could use a little more fun than what the 2016 season has provided so far.