Oakland Athletics: 5 Things We Learned in the Month of May
The Oakland Athletics should be glad that the month of May is over and done with. What started out as a somewhat promising month quickly was highlighted by key injuries that helped contribute to dismally low offensive performances.
It was a straining 31 days for the entire team, though. Three members of the starting lineup along with the team’s ace all saw time on the disabled list. Oakland’s closer was demoted. The A’s were shut out five times and finished May with eight straight losses—dropping them to last place in the American League West. Heck, manager Bob Melvin was even ejected twice during the month.
Needless to say, it was a tough go-round for this group of young players who were one of MLB's bright spots for exceeding expectations over the course of the season’s first five weeks. But obviously, the baseball gods evened out Oakland's karma for the season, putting the team in some dire situations in May. Not many ballclubs could overcome losing two members of their outfield, their third baseman and their No. 1 starting pitcher—all within a week of each other. And for an inexperienced team like the A’s, it proved to be even more difficult to handle.
That said, the Athletics certainly did their best given the circumstances. But they still finished May with an 11-16 record.
It was definitely not easy to watch, but there are always lessons to take away from those trying times. Here are five things we learned about the A’s in the month of May.
The A’s Have a Bad Offense—Historically Bad
Harry How/Getty Images
We actually already knew that Oakland’s offense wasn’t good. In the month of April, the Athletics ranked last in the AL in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. They also scored the fewest runs per game—only 68 in 22 games.
A quick summation would indicate that the Athletics had a poor offense. But the A’s were just getting started in demonstrating their ineptitude. Oakland was about to reach even lower depths in the month of May.
The Athletics finished the month with a team slash line of .210/.295/.334 and scored 91 runs in 27 games. The numbers actually weren’t worse than April’s—thanks in large part to a Brandon Inge RBI binge (16 driven in from May 7th to May 11th). But after the A’s placed Inge, Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp on the DL, the team’s offense could not compensate.
From May 15th through May 30th, Oakland was shut out five times in 15 games. It’s a remarkable amount of offensive incompetence that had the team fall from second place in the division, 3.5 games behind the Texas Rangers on May 6th, to last place by month’s end, nine games back of first place.
What a shame.
The A’s were trying to again be the little green engine that could, overachieving with their noses above the .500 mark despite an atrocious offense. But the number of injuries to important contributors showed how vulnerable—and untalented—this team really is.
Make no mistake—there’s plenty of blame to go around. Nearly every member of the team is performing horribly. The numbers speak for themselves: batting averages look more like players’ weights. Coco Crisp, .132; Josh Donaldson, .170; Kurt Suzuki, .187; Cliff Pennington, .200; Kila Ka’aihue, .203. These stats are cringe-worthy.
Amazingly, it could’ve been worse. Imagine where Oakland would be without Josh Reddick and his 10 home runs. Or, actually, don’t. That would be a nightmare.
The Athletics’ roster is already thin enough as it is—but what May spotlighted was the team’s lack of depth. Their inability to cope with injuries means an already below-average A’s squad becomes a Triple-A squad of fill-ins and replacement starters. Players like Donaldson and Ka’aihue, Collin Cowgill, Daric Barton, Eric Sogard and Anthony Recker are not uniquely MLB-caliber players. Thus, with the A’s, what you see is what you get.
And what you get is a bad offense—rather, a putrid offense.
Josh Reddick Is the Team's MVP
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Again, it’s hard to envision how terrible the team's offense would be without the heroic efforts of Josh Reddick. Despite being the key component in the trade that sent Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney to the Boston Red Sox, nobody would have honestly expected Reddick to be putting up the numbers he has so far this season.
Last month was especially enjoyable for Reddick, personally. The 25-year-old right fielder smacked 10 homers, with 18 runs batted in and 20 runs scored. Reddick was responsible for 30 percent of Oakland’s run production in May.
His performance was especially vital once Brandon Inge and Yoenis Cespedes went down with injury. Reddick practically was the only Athletic hitting during the last half of the month, making him incredibly important to the team’s functionality. If the A’s didn’t have him, they basically had nothing.
For the season, Reddick is batting .271 with 14 home runs and 29 RBI. One would say he doesn’t have much competition, but clearly, he is the Athletics’ most valuable player. You can’t take anything away from the remarkable season he is having so far with the A’s.
Manny Ramirez Apparently Not Ready to Join Athletics
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
One of the important moments for the A’s this year was their improbable signing of free-agent, formerly retired slugger Manny Ramirez. It’s been a while since Oakland had a player with the national stature of Ramirez, so it was intriguing to know where this whole storyline is headed.
Of course, Ramirez could not join the Athletics until he served a 50-game suspension to start the season, as part of his compliance for failing a drug test last season. Ramirez was more than happy to do so in order to get another chance to play in the majors. In fact, his contract of $500,000 with the A’s was his way of showing that he just wants to play—money does not matter.
Conceivably, if all things went according to plan, Ramirez was eligible to join Oakland on May 30th—after the Athletics’ 50th game. But he did not.
There are several factors as to why Ramirez is still spending time with the Triple-A affiliate Sacramento River Cats, not the least of which is he’s simply not comfortable with his readiness to perform at a high level.
Though the Athletics aren’t breaking their backs with their investment in Ramirez, the slugger certainly does not want just to play for the sake of it, at a below-average level. The guy hasn’t played for over a year—and he’s 40 years old. Obviously there are some kinks to iron out.
But what’s more loud and clear is the fact that the A’s are in no hurry to call him up. Part of that could be the front office’s evaluation of the utility in bringing Ramirez to a team that is mathematically irrelevant. Yes, he’d be a draw at the gate. Yes, he’d be a marginal upgrade offensively.
But what really would be the point in toting a player who is one of the best power hitters in the last quarter century and is probably on his last legs just for a few months’ worth of baseball? Especially, knowing the Athletics, if it’s possible that he could be tradeable to a team who would need/want whatever productivity he has left in his bat. Wouldn’t the A’s rather get a Double-A prospect instead?
Knowing the A’s, yes. Absolutely.
Oakland is evidently trying to figure out what's best for him and for the team. Despite the Athletics’ dire thirst for offensive reinforcements, they realized last month that Ramirez might not be the right part of their arsenal.
Starting Pitching Isn't as Good as Once Believed
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
One of the reasons the Athletics were miraculously overachieving during the first several weeks of the season was because the team’s starting pitching was doing so well. For the most part.
Oakland had a 3.57 ERA in the month of April; the starters pitched in a 3.87 ERA. There were some up-and-down performances, but overall, A’s starters were quite stellar. Especially Bartolo Colon and Tommy Milone. Colon posted a remarkable 1.04 WHIP in 34.2 innings, while Milone chipped in a 1.01 WHIP. To say this makeshift staff exceeded expectations would be an understatement.
Then came May. The pitchers realized that without much of an offense to support them, they’d have to take their games to a higher level. Sadly, the starting rotation was unable to do that. For the month, the starters’ ERA was a combined 4.76 and they posted an 8-13 record. Both Tyson Ross (6.51 ERA for the season) and Graham Godfrey (6.43) were sent down to Triple-A in May. Ross had a 1-5 record for the month.
Traditionally, the starting staff has been Oakland’s bread and butter. But May was completely terrible for the starters, and it showed exactly how moldy and ripe the rotation is. They are a young bunch with marginal experience at best, and as a unit, they still have a lot of holes in their collective performance. While they have shown signs of brilliance, it’s not unexpected to see them take a lot of lumps.
With a rotation that is earmarked by its potential and not its historical ability, you shrug your shoulders and merely take the bad with the good. April was good. May was bad. It simply is what it is.
Ryan Cook Is Human
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
One of the lone bright spots on the Athletics’ season has been the out-of-nowhere performance of reliever Ryan Cook. The 24-year-old righty came to Oakland in the trade that sent Trevor Cahill to the Arizona Diamondbacks. There wasn’t a whole lot to expect out of Cook, but he has quickly shown that he is the Iron Chef of the team’s bullpen.
Cook began the season with a remarkable streak of 23.1 shutout innings—an Athletics franchise record. His historic run came to an end on May 28th when he gave up two runs in the team’s 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins. Apparently, Cook is human.
Still, despite the hiccup, Cook is clearly showing his dominance of the AL, posting a 0.72 ERA for the season, with 10 holds and a 0.84 WHIP. He has only allowed six base hits all season in 25 innings pitched.
If Reddick is the MVP of the Athletics’ offense, then Cook is absolutely the same for the team’s pitching staff. It’s possible that he will garner some All-Star Game consideration, especially if Reddick’s overall numbers even slightly dwindle. Cook has proved that he is capable of having a tremendous season.
Despite being just a mortal reliever.
Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue