Oakland Athletics 2011 Review: A Season of 2 Halves
The 2010 season was a long-winded 162-game tease for the Oakland Athletics.
Led by their enviable young and talented pitching staff that ranked first in the American League in ERA, quality starts and shutouts, the A’s reached the .500 mark for the first time in four seasons, establishing a foundation to build upon toward the future. And with a sprightly, pesky offense that ranked third in stolen bases, the A’s certainly felt there was something to look forward to, as long as they added some—any—power to the middle of the lineup.
So, using the World Series-winning blueprint of their Bay Area rivals, Oakland made a few upgrades to their languid offense this past offseason, with visions of the playoffs in 2011.
Unfortunately, a slow start from the revamped offense, a managerial firing, an infirmary of players and the worst defense in the American League have resulted in a very disappointing year for Oakland and their fans. Unmet expectations. Uninspired baseball. An unfulfilling season.
So many things went wrong for the Athletics in a year that can only be described as eventful. It’s difficult to construct an overlaying theme that encapsulates the challenges that Oakland has faced over the course of their season.
If there were only one word to describe 2011 it would be dichotomous. Yes, the story of the A’s season can be considered a tale of two distinct halves. It was the worst of times; it was the not-as-worst of times.
Pre-All-Star Break: No Offense but the A's Are All Pitching
As stated, the A’s offense was physically inert during the first three months of this season, plodding to a 3.47 runs-per-game average, with a minuscule .235 batting average and only 43 home runs. They were pacing themselves to be considered as bad—pretty darn close—as the team’s grotesque 2010 offense. In certain circles, the team was referred to as the akland A’s—they had no O.
On the flip side, on the hill, Oakland’s pitching staff continued its impeccable performance, leading the AL with a 3.13 ERA through the first half of the season. Quite remarkable as it were, but even more given the losses of left-handed starter Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson to season-ending surgeries, along with injuries to right-handers Brandon McCarthy and fill-in Tyson Ross in June. Not to mention the fact that the projected fifth starter Rich Harden and All-Star closer Andrew Bailey both began spring training on the DL. The depth of the pitching rotation and the staff as a whole was on display, mustering together an overachieving first half of the season.
Sadly, it was more than just the team’s dismal performance at the plate that led to the discharge of manager Bob Geren. But it was so tumultuous—players not knowing when or where they’d play, slumping veterans, general disgruntlement—that something had to be done. A managerial change was needed to reaffirm the front office’s commitment to winning this season, and the insertion of veteran Bob Melvin as the new skipper implied that the visions of postseason were still in focus, even for a team so pitching-heavy but hitting-light.
However, Melvin’s confidence and consistency, while a wonderfully pleasant dose of leadership, could not alone save a team that was only half-good for half a season.
Second Half: Bats Heat Up, Pitching Cools Down
As the All-Star break came and went, it turned out to be the turning point of the season. Sort of. The light switch on offense flipped on and nearly everyone on the team got hot. As a team, Oakland batted .279 in July, and had a .765 OBS, which ranked third in the AL for the month. It was somewhat of an incredible turnaround—at least it was for the A’s. How did this happen?
Certainly a more consistent lineup of healthier players helped, along with rookie second baseman Jemile Weeks’ surprising assertion as the new leadoff hitter. In his very first few weeks in the big leagues, Weeks was named Rookie of the Month for June. Pretty impressive.
Most importantly, though, were the warm bats of veteran acquisitions Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham. Godzilla breathed fire on the league in July, hitting .369 with a 1.009 OPS. Willingham was no slouch—a .324 batting average and 1.074 OPS. The A’s were finally scoring runs like they had envisioned coming into the year.
True, the hot July did not extend throughout the last two months of the season, but in general, A’s hitters were finally feasting at the plate. In 22 fewer games, Oakland scored more runs in the second half than they did in the first half. As a team, they also hit more home runs, had nearly as many doubles and triples and had an OPS over 100 points higher. This left many to wonder how things would have been if they performed that well pre-All-Star break.
Unfortunately, as the offense shined, Oakland’s lights-out pitching was nowhere to be seen. Post-All-Star break, the A’s compiled a 4.55 ERA, giving up more runs in 22 fewer games. Amazing. Given the talent on the staff, and the remarkable first-half numbers, it’s almost an incredulous comparison.
Trevor Cahill led the descent, posting a 0-4 record in August, with a whopping 7.15 ERA. The 2010 AL Cy Young candidate had a rather disappointing third season, contributing largely to the team’s bloated numbers over the second half of the season. With such depletion to the maligned pitching staff, almost everyone was stretched further than they otherwise would have been. They simply could not overcome the dearth of arms.
Season Summary: What Could Have Been in 2011
The A’s will head into the offseason asking themselves "What if?" What if they hit in the first half? What if they could pitch better in the second? What if they could add and make one whole team for one whole season?
What if Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson didn't both have season-ending surgeries?
In the end, the numbers just didn’t add up for the Athletics. When they hit well, they pitched poorly. When they pitched outstanding, they couldn’t hit anything. Yes, 2011 will be looked back upon by the A’s as a year that was simply incomplete. They were simply not a whole team in one facet or another, essentially a fraction of what they should have been throughout.
General manager Billy Beane has some new math to figure out for next year's roster, as the A's try to formulate a way to have one full season with one full team.
One may be the loneliest number, but it’s not half as bad as one-half.