Oakland A's: Season Checkpoint No. 2
Since our first checkpoint of the season (when the A's were 19-18), the team has gone 20-24. Does not sound like the best record. But when considering the injuries to Yoenis Cespedes, Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy as well as the designated hitter that never played a single game as a member of this ball club, it could have been much worse.
The A's now sit at 39-42, on pace for 78 wins, an improvement over any season in the Bob Geren era.
However, there are signs that suggest the A's could potentially be a sleeper team in the second half of the 2012 MLB season. But that is for another day. Right now, I hand out my awards and analysis of the first half of the Oakland A's season. Drumroll, if you please.
First Half MVP: Josh Reddick
When the A's dealt closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney to Boston to get Josh Reddick in return, most thought Boston had completely fleeced Billy Beane and A's management.
Reddick had only hit seven home runs in 2011 and while he was well regarded, it did not seem like he was enough in return for a top-flight reliever and big league outfielder like Sweeney.
Then they started playing the games.
All Josh Reddick has done is pace an A's offense that was at times, abysmal. He leads the team in both home runs (19) and RBI's (41), and is on pace for the most home runs by an Oakland hitter since Frank Thomas slammed 39 in 2006. Quite simply, he has been a godsend for this offense.
On defense, his arm in right field has helped amass eight assists, second best among right fielders in the American League.
Even if his production tails off in the second half, Reddick has more than held up his end of this trade and gives the A's a stalwart in right field for years to come.
First Half LVP: Brian Fuentes
To put it bluntly, Fuentes has been awful.
As of this writing, he possesses and ERA of 6.84, a WHIP of 1.6, and has allowed five home runs in 25 innings pitched. His two losses were carbon copies of each other, walk off three run home runs with two outs in the ninth.
First, he was victimized by former A's slugger Josh Willingham on May 29th. Then Arizona's Ryan Roberts did yard work on June 8th. Those two losses aside, the A's would be over .500, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
In his last seven appearances, Fuentes has allowed at least one run, and his ERA has more than doubled. It has gotten to the point where manager Bob Melvin only uses him in low-pressure, low-leverage situations, and Fuentes still looks bad.
His command has been off, as evidenced by his 1.8-1 strikeout to walk ratio (among the lowest by set-up men or closers in the AL).
The A's would love to deal him, but there do not seem to be any takers. The best case scenario is that Fuentes can pitch well enough for someone to be willing to take him in the second half.
Most Surprising Player: Ryan Cook
Just how good was the Trevor Cahill trade? The key component to the A's second half fortunes could very well have been a throw-in piece to it.
Most experts recognized that Jarrod Parker had what it took to be a top-flight starting pitcher. Many also figured that Collin Cowgill could come in and give the A's a hard nosed, gritty outfielder who could start as well as come off the bench for the club.
What no one could have recognized however, was that the best player by the numbers would have been reliever Ryan Cook. The hard throwing righty has gone from an afterthought to an All-Star with a fantastic first half.
He started his A's career with 23 1/3 scoreless innings. His current ERA is a sparkling 1.54 with seven saves and a WHIP under one.
Best of all, the A's finally have a closer, not a committee. While he has had a couple of bumpy appearances, there is no question the A's have their man in the ninth inning.
Most Disappointing Player: Jemile Weeks
Jemile Weeks was the one certainty the A's appeared to have going into 2012. So much so that he was the only player the A's made clear they would not consider trading in the off-season.
But once the regular season began, the magic that had energized a moribund offense a season ago was not there. Weeks has struggled to adjust, hitting no better than .250 in any month.
Not only has Weeks struggled at the plate, his defense has been shaky at times as well. He is currently on pace for 20 errors, a very high number for a second baseman. In the midst of a 3 for 23 slump, his average has dipped back to .216 and Weeks is no longer the lead off hitter.
The best case scenario for the A's is that Weeks uses the All-Star break to recharge and get back to the form that made him such a sensation in 2011. If not, he becomes a hindrance to the team.
2nd Half X-Factor: Health
Quite simply, A's fans may not see the best of the this team in time for a real push to a Wild Card spot.
Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Sizemore and Yoenis Cespedes have all missed some or all of the 2012 season. Those are three starters, the starting third baseman and a middle-of-the-order bat.
Combine those injuries with the ascendancy of catcher Derek Norris, the acquisitions of Brandon Moss and Brandon Inge, and the potential for Chris Carter to play more, and there may not be enough time for all the new parts to mesh together.
If the A's have any semblance of making a run, they will need all hands on deck. That means getting Anderson and Braden back and productive. That means having Cespedes play upwards of 70 games after the break. That means McCarthy returning and maintaining the form that has him fourth in the American League in ERA for starting pitchers.
The A's, in my opinion, have enough parts to make things interesting, but the question is, will they have all the parts operational? More than anything, that will decide if the 2012 team aspires to a .500 record or becomes a nice story in late August and September.
Outlook Moving Forward
There are so many variables as to which direction the A's could go as the second half of the schedule kicks off. But one thing that has not be an issue is effort.
Kudos to manager Bob Melvin for running out a lineup that might not always be aesthetically pleasing, but always fights. Unlike the previous 4 1/2 years of Bob Geren, you see these A's fight and scrap for everything. That hustle could go a long way with everyone back and available.
That said, I do think it is unreasonable to expect a huge surge from this team. There are too many things that have to break right for the A's to really contend for the postseason. As I have said all along, .500 should be the goal and I do think that is much more attainable.
It will be interesting to see what Chris Carter and Derek Norris do with their opportunities as the first half ends and the second begins. Yoenis Cespedes could have a big second half if he gets and stays healthy. So far, I would have to say I am happy with his production.
If the A's manage to get any semblance of consistency on offense, they definitely have the pitching (1st in the AL in ERA) to make it stand up. Adding guys like Anderson and Braden can only help, but if they don't come back strong, it appears as though A.J. Griffin and Tom Milone have what it takes to do more than hold the fort down.