In spite of a four-game losing streak, the A's are a good 12-8 through their first 20 games. Known even during the Moneyball days of the early 2000s as a slow-starting team, this start has been the team's best since 11-9 starts in 2002 and 2003.
However, the clear caveat is the fact that six of those 12 victories have come against the woeful Houston Astros. But this early in the season, there is no need to apologize for the schedule. Instead, let's take a look at how Oakland's roster has performed in each major unit.
First, there's the rotation. Surprisingly, this unit has been underwhelming. The expected strength of the team, each starter has had at least one bad start. Here are the numbers so far:
- Brett Anderson (1-3, 5.95 ERA)
- Jarrod Parker (0-3, 7.50 ERA)
- Tom Milone (3-1, 4.26 ERA)
- A.J. Griffin (2-1, 4.50 ERA)
- Bartolo Colon (2-0, 3.32 ERA)
No one would have or could have predicted that Anderson and Parker would be 1-6 with a combined ERA over 6.50 or that the back end of the rotation would be 7-2. But paradoxically, this weakness has shown the strength of the rotation. That's especially true when you factor in Dan Straily's very good start in Houston before being sent to Triple-A.
On the whole, I give the rotation a C- grade. Even with a great (albeit hard-luck) start against Tampa Bay, Jarrod Parker was awful overall. Anderson still has issues with his health and has had control problems early in 2013. I expect this unit will improve as the weather warms up, but it has not been pretty.
The bullpen has been the strength of the team so far. 3-0 with three saves and a 2.74 ERA, the relief unit's efforts have helped the A's to maintain leads as well as keep the team in games and give the offense a chance to win. Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins and Sean Doolittle have been standouts.
- Ryan Cook (1-0, three holds, .87 ERA, .77 WHIP)
- Jerry Blevins (.93 ERA, .72 WHIP, 11.17 K's per 9 innings)
- Sean Doolittle (1-0, two holds, 1.35 ERA, .60 WHIP)
Evan Scribner and Pat Neshek have had their struggles, but on the whole, this unit gets a B+ grade. And while Grant Balfour has allowed a couple of home runs, he has been solid so far.
The lineup has been largely feast-or-famine with a trio of standout performers.
- Coco Crisp (.309/.420/.662 splits, 5 home runs, 9 RBI's, 7 doubles, 7 stolen bases)
- Jed Lowrie (.361/.446/.597 splits, 3 home runs, 14 RBI's, 8 doubles)
- Seth Smith (.388/.474/.571 splits, 1 home run, 7 RBI's, 6 doubles)
What has been disconcerting has been the lackluster play of the other three outfielders. Before going on the disabled list, Yoenis Cespedes was hitting just .200 with 13 strikeouts in 40 at-bats. Even worse, Chris Young has hit a paltry .159 with 16 strikeouts in 63 at-bats.
But the biggest scuffle has come from Josh Reddick. Reddick has looked largely lost at the plate, hitting just .140 and slugging just .246 while striking out 15 times in 57 at-bats. It speaks volumes to the overall depth of the 2013 lineup that the A's have still scored a league-best 106 runs. In spite of the fact that the A's struggled against the power pitching of both Tampa Bay and Detroit, I still give this lineup a B grade.
Considering pundits were speculating that this team would struggle to score runs again, this has been a nice surprise. It might not be realistic to expect this kind of output all year long, but then again, even if Lowrie and Smith tail off, it has to be a matter of time before Reddick and Cespedes begin to hit better.
The last unit is the bench. Contributions have come from Young, Andy Parrino, Nate Freiman and Derek Norris. Young has struggled, though his play in the outfield has been solid. Parrino has been essentially a middling utility man thus far but has not compounded his plate issues with poor defense.
Freiman looks the part of a power-hitting, right-handed first baseman, but so far he has largely been powerless at the plate, with just one home run and no other extra-base hits. Norris, however, has been solid with his time in the lineup. Hitting .323, Norris has four RBI's and has had his share of clutch at-bats early in the season.
But Norris alone can't offset what has been a lack of production off the bench. The A's can only hope that Adam Rosales can return to give the team a more experienced option for Eric Sogard off the bench at second base. On the whole, the bench unit gets a C- grade so far.
So there you have it. Oakland has a couple of games in Boston to avoid a winless road trip before heading back home. Hopefully by this weekend, Cespedes will return to the lineup and help to right the ship. As has been the case since his arrival, the A's are a different team without the Cuban Missile in the lineup (9-2 with him, 3-6 without him in 2013).
Ultimately, this start bodes well for this team. I have no reason to believe they won't warm up again in typical A's fashion after the All-Star break. Keeping the Texas Rangers and, ultimately, the Los Angeles Angels close will serve to help a team that has more than division title aspirations for this year.