The 2015 season veered sharply off course for the A’s, as their three-year streak of postseason appearances ended with a last-place finish.
However, a search through the rubble shows that several compelling storylines did emerge. Here’s a look back at the year’s best, both from an individual and team perspective:
Sonny Gray emerges as a Cy Young finalist
The right-hander set the tone early with an electrifying Opening Night start, giving up just one hit over eight innings in an 8-0 blanking of Texas. His dominance carried over throughout the season, as he went 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA and found himself sharing center stage with Dallas Keuchel and David Price as one of three finalists for the AL Cy Young award, which ultimately went to Keuchel.
Gray, 26, was named to his first All-Star team, and a highlight of his season came July 12. In Oakland’s final game before the All-Star break, Gray threw a two-hitter at Cleveland for his first shutout of the season. It was a triumphant way to close the first half, and he and catcher Stephen Vogt both headed off to the Midsummer Classic in style.
Gray became one of the AL’s truly elite pitchers in just his second full big league season, finishing in the league’s top five in ERA, WHIP and opponents’ batting average.
Three July trades set course for the future
In less than a week’s span leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, the A’s dealt away three key veterans that essentially waved the white flag on 2015. Left-hander Scott Kazmir was shipped to the Houston Astros on July 23. Reliever Tyler Clippard was traded to the New York Mets four days later and utility man Ben Zobrist got dealt to the Kansas City Royals on July 28.
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It was a house-cleaning that everyone saw coming, given the A’s had tumbled to the AL West cellar after beginning the season with playoff aspirations. Those three trades netted the A’s five prospects – pitchers Aaron Brooks, Sean Manaea, Casey Meisner and Daniel Mengden along with catcher Jacob Nottingham. It signaled a big-picture shift, as the front office turned the page on 2015 and put the focus on stocking up the farm system with an eye toward the future.
Zito and Hudson ride into the sunset together
The A’s final home series of the season served as a “Big Three” trip down memory lane. Barry Zito made the Sept. 26 start for the A’s and Tim Hudson took the ball for the Giants -- two of the greatest pitchers in Oakland history, sharing the Coliseum mound one last time before retiring. Making the story complete was the presence of Mark Mulder, the third of the Big Three trio, who was watching the game from the stands.
Neither pitcher made it past two innings, but that wasn’t the point. A sold-out crowd gave Zito and Hudson multiple standing ovations each. Zito would make one more start for the A’s, on the final road trip in Anaheim, but that afternoon at the Coliseum was the perfect send-off.