Oakland A's: Season Checkpoint No. 1
After 37 games, the Oakland A's sit in second place in the American League West with a 19-18 record.
Many pundits had them picked to finish dead last and lose upwards of 100 games in 2012.
It appears those predictions may be well off the mark. It has been a good opening stretch for the club, especially considering the A's have been playing with key members of their lineup struggling, injured or both. Manny Ramirez will not play for another two weeks, and both Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden have not pitched a single inning.
Here are some of the pros and cons of this season so far.
Pro: Brandon McCarthy
The ace of the A's staff, McCarthy has been as good as advertised, with a 2.56 ERA in his first eight starts.
Despite receiving the fourth-fewest runs per start in the American League, McCarthy is 3-3 so far.
More impressively, he is surging, having only allowed three runs on 14 hits in 20.2 innings. While he has been better at home, his road ERA is still a very respectable 3.48.
Pro: Josh Reddick
When the A's traded Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney to Boston for Josh Reddick, many felt Billy Beane has officially lost it.
It seemed crazy to trade a top-10 (when healthy) closer and a solid corner outfielder for another slap-hitting outfielder, unless you realized how much real potential Reddick had.
Although he only hit one home run every 37.5 at-bats with the Red Sox, he did hit 32 in 712 career Minor League at-bats. He also did hit .280 last year.
Being able to play every day with less pressure in the Bay Area has equaled success for Reddick.
Entering Wednesday's action, he is sixth in the AL with nine home runs, eighth in runs scored with 25 and 10th in slugging. His .285/.344/.542 splits are more impressive when you realize that he has hit more home runs in Oakland than on the road—no small task.
Pro: Yoenis Cespedes
Cespedes, the surprise signing of the free agent period, has delivered so far for the A's.
While he is still raw at the plate, his unquestioned power and surprising discipline has helped him get off to a promising start. Currently hitting .245, Cespedes leads the team with 21 RBI in spite of the fact he has not played since May 6th.
A hand injury has the "Cuban Missile" on the disabled list for about another week, but expect him to come back strong upon his return.
Pro: Ryan Cook
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2012 season so far has been the pitching of reliever Ryan Cook.
Essentially an extra in the Trevor Cahill trade with Arizona, Cook has been lights out so far as the primary setup man. In 16 games and 17.2 innings pitched, Cook has allowed exactly zero runs on four hits with 17 strikeouts.
A WHIP of 0.68 thus far has A's fans thinking Cook may be the eventual closer. With the way that role seems to be in flux, they could be right.
Con: Jemile Weeks
Granted it is early, but with the way Jemile Weeks exploded on the scene upon his arrival in 2011, many naturally expected him to continue at that level in 2012.
That simply has not happened.
Weeks is currently hitting .200 with a .275 on-base percentage. That lack of production has been one of the reasons for the A's offensive struggles early on. His fielding has also been a little inconsistent with four errors early on.
If Weeks does not improve, the A's will not be able to have consistent offensive success.
Con: Grant Balfour
Grant Balfour, always kind of a white-knuckle reliever, has been an adventure recently, blowing two saves and subsequently complaining about how manager Bob Melvin is utilizing him.
His production is relatively good for a closer. The problem is, Balfour is far from lights-out and has not performed consistently this year. So to call the manager out and complain about how he is being used is only a detriment to the ball club as a whole.
Con: Daric Barton
Every year, A's fans wait for the production that is supposed to come from Daric Barton.
Every year, they are disappointed. This year, sadly, is no exception.
In 27 games, Barton has splits of .185/.305/.284 and has been unable to make key plays at first base, which has contributed to A's losses. He still has the ability to draw walks, but with only one home run in 81 at-bats and Kila Ka'aihue better across the board offensively, I am at a loss as to why Barton continues to start as often as he does.
To make matters worse, Barton still has been shown sulking in the dugout and after games. Hopefully with the return of Cespedes and the addition of Manny Ramirez, Barton will not see any playing time.
Con: Coco Crisp
The A's re-signed Coco Crisp to a two-year, $14 million contract in the offseason. That was a head-scratcher.
Yes, he has been solid when healthy for the A's. But $7 million per year was steep when there were high-potential, low-cost replacements within the organization (i.e. Colin Cowgill and Michael Taylor).
Before getting injured, Crisp played poorly. His splits were .194/.260/.209, and his outfield arm is so suspect that teams frequently run on him from shallow left field.
There are too many cheaper alternatives the A's can turn to, so unless he gets white-hot upon returning, I think it would be best for both parties to cut ties if someone is willing to deal for him.
Considering the predictions and the fact that the A's have been far from torrid at the plate, being over .500 and in striking distance of the big, bad Texas Rangers is no small feat.
To be more than a decent story and actually make a move, they will need some of their contributors to return from the DL. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Manny Ramirez will provide to the club offensively starting May 30.
For the A's to be treading water is not a bad thing based on the expectations. But when there have been glimmers of hope that this could be a better team, many may not think that is good enough in 2012.