What a month of contrasts that May was for the A’s.
At the same time that a couple of players were commanding the individual spotlight, the A’s as a team were sort of a mess. They finished 11-17 for the month, tied for the second-worst record in the American League, and they lost no fewer than six players to the disabled list, including No. 1 starter Sonny Gray and arguably their best position player in right fielder Josh Reddick.
Yet there was so much good to look back on as well. Left-hander Rich Hill was nearly untouchable on the mound and wound up being voted the American League Pitcher of the Month. There wasn’t a ballpark that could contain left fielder/DH Khris Davis, who hit the third-most homers that any Oakland batter has ever collected in May.
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough to avoid a slide in the standings. The A’s began the month one game above .500 and just 1 ½ games out in the American League West. They finished it five games under .500 and 7 ½ games off the pace.
Nonetheless, there was no shortage of noteworthy events to look back on. Let’s dive in …
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Making Davis’ May all the more remarkable was just how badly he struggled throughout most of his first month with the A’s. On April 20, he was hitting .174 with no homers. He’d struck out in 43 percent of his at-bats. Davis gradually found his power stroke and then went on a tear. He hit an AL-best 11 home runs in May and ranked fourth with 26 RBI. It marked the first time an A’s hitter had clubbed as many as 11 homers in a month since Jason Giamibi hit 13 in September 2000. No Athletic had produced a 26-RBI or better month since Frank Thomas drove in 31 in September 2006.
MOST VALUABLE PITCHER: From 2010-2015, Hill bounced around from the Red Sox to the Indians, to the Angels, to the Yankees and back to the Red Sox, accumulating just five major league wins over those six seasons spent almost solely as a reliever. The lefty equaled that win total in May alone, going 5-1 with a 2.13 ERA in six starts for the A’s. Opponents hit just .178 against him and his WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) was an excellent 1.03. But he provided the A’s more than dominant innings on the mound. He was a rock of stability during a time when Gray struggled greatly, filling a void at the top of Oakland’s rotation. A soft-spoken personality in the clubhouse, teammates have noticed a more fiery demeanor that emerges when he’s pitching. All around, he’s been an outstanding addition to this year’s team.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Coco Crisp -- A’s ironman.
Ok, maybe that’s overstating things. The oft-injured outfielder has played in 47 of the A’s 57 games so far. In May, he appeared in 23 of 28. But in a month where so many crucial players missed so much time to injuries, Crisp was a durable constant for manager Bob Melvin, serving as the regular left fielder and eventually assuming leadoff hitter duties from Billy Burns. Crisp has been nicked up on occasion this season – he’s dealing with a heel issue right now. But consider that he has a realistic shot of reaching 130 games played this season. Should the 36-year-old Crisp reach that number, his $13 million vesting option for 2017 becomes guaranteed. That scenario seemed unfathomable before this season, as Crisp played in just 170 games combined over the 2014 and 2015 seasons. If his option doesn’t vest, the A’s could instead buy it out for $750,000.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: The A’s liked the flexibility and depth of their roster heading into the season. Injuries began taking their toll as early as spring training and April, then a slew of costly ones in May began stripping the roster. Jed Lowrie missed two weeks with a shin contusion. Reddick fractured his thumb in a May 20 game, sidetracking a potentially All-Star worthy first half. Two days later, Gray joined the DL with a strained trapezius. Catcher Josh Phegley was out 15 games with a knee strain, which put a big burden on Stephen Vogt behind the plate. First baseman/outfielder Mark Canha was lost to season-ending hip surgery. At one point during May, the A’s had 13 players on the DL, their most since at least 1979.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Davis’ walk-off grand slam May 17 against Texas was hands-down the A’s best snapshot of the month. That it capped off a three-homer game for the slugger was even more amazing. As Davis trotted around third, he saw his jubilant teammates waiting at home plate, pulled up short of them, and channeled his inner Splash Brother by taking a jump shot with his helmet into the crowd of players. Must-see theatre all around.
BIGGEST REASON FOR OPTIMISM: Stealing a bit from our April material, we’ll go with the potential return of right-hander Henderson Alvarez to boost the rotation. Alvarez suffered a setback with his surgically repaired right shoulder in mid-May but is again on the comeback trail and getting close to facing hitters. If Sonny Gray continues showing the form he had Sunday, and if Alvarez eventually becomes an effective every-fifth-day guy, it would be a much-needed lift for the A’s rotation.
BIGGEST REASON FOR CONCERN: Even if the A’s get a lift from Alvarez, a healthy return from Reddick and a rejuvenated effort from Gray, will it be enough to make them players in the AL West race? The Texas Rangers have ascended to the top of the division and now have a healthy Yu Darvish at their disposal. The A’s, swept over the weekend in Houston, saw first-hand how much better the third-place Astros are playing. The Mariners, currently in second, have dipped recently but have shown how much better they are than last season. And the Angels won’t simply roll over for opponents. Not only do the A’s (25-32) have to start playing better themselves, they have to contend with a division that top-to-bottom will make it tough to make up ground from their current last-place standing.
NOTES, QUOTES AND ANECDOTES:
“I didn’t pimp the home run. I just enjoyed it with my teammates. I don’t think they’re gonna be upset about it.” – Davis, asked about what the Rangers’ reaction might be after his “jump shot” celebration following his walk-off slam. --How have we gotten this far in a May wrap-up without mentioning Danny Valencia? He combined with Davis to give the A’s a potent middle-of-the-lineup power combo throughout May. The third baseman hit .359 with eight homers and 19 RBI in 21 games during the month. Oh yeah, he also turned in his own three-homer game, two days before Davis enjoyed his.
--The 19 combined homers from Davis (11) and Valencia (8) were the most in May by a pair of A’s teammates since 1987, when Mark McGwire and Mike Davis had 22 (McGwire hit 15 of them).
--Crisp’s 10 doubles in May were one off the Oakland record for the month, shared by several players.
--So how did the A’s wind up 11-17 despite doing some really good things offensively? For starters, they allowed 40 home runs in 28 games in May, tied for third-most in the AL. Their starters posted a 5.27 ERA, second-highest in the league, and they ranked 13th out of 15 teams in innings pitched, which put a tremendous strain on the bullpen.
--To wrap up, this visual spoke volumes. Toward the end of May, Reddick was spotted at his locker, taping a homemade, hand-written card to the side of it. It was a get-well card from Vogt’s four-year-old daughter, Payton, which she made after she heard about Reddick’s thumb injury. There was no shortage of sympathy to spread around in a month when the A’s took their lumps on several different fronts.