Almost all A's in April

It's been awhile, A's Nation, but this native Texan A's fan is back to offer his two cents worth on Oakland's young season. I was concerned for a while there when the Rangers swept the series in Oakland, but the A's sweep in Arlington made me feel better about them.

That 7-1 loss Friday night in Boston not withstanding, I would give the A’s almost all A’s for the first month of the 2014 season.

Heading into May, the A’s had recorded some statistics that suggest that they may have actually UNDERACHIEVED in posting an American League-best 18-10 record.

The pitching has been, except in two areas, the best in the league. But I want to start with the hitting. Usually, their pitching carries the team early in the season, but the A’s hitters have started fast this year, and club actually led the AL in three offensive categories. They also were in the top five in most other categories and in the top half in all.

The most important to the A’s was their league-topping .351 on-base percentage. They also led in plate appearances (1,144) and stolen-base percentage (90.48 19-2 SB-caught stealing). They were second in walks (130), walks per game (4.64) and triples (7).

Continuing, the Green and Gold were third in: scoring (148 runs), RBIs (138), OPS (.763), extra-base hits (86), total bases (408) and number of pitches seen (4,465). They were fourth in: runs per game (5.29), batting average (.261) and slugging percentage (.412). Rounding things out, the A’s were fifth in homers (28) and seventh in doubles (51).

A’s hitters have sent an early message to opposing pitchers: You better bring a lunch pail when facing them. Besides leading in plate appearances, the A’s have seen the most number of pitches, indicating they already are wearing down pitchers.

Last week, for instance, when they hung a loss on the Rangers’ Yu Darvish for the seventh time in eight decisions, seven of the first 10 batters went to a 3-and-2 count, and the Texas ace would leave one out in the fourth after 83 pitches trailing 4-0. Nick Martinez, the third Rangers pitcher that night, pitched five scoreless innings, but A’s ran up his pitch count up to 77, which effectively prevented Ron Washington from turning to him later in the series.

Earlier in the trip, the A’s saw 214 pitches in a game in Houston. They won that war of attrition with seven runs in the top of the ninth, busting open a 5-5 game.

Most games they send out a lineup in which the first five hitters boast an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) over .800 – Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Yeonis Cespedes. And when manager Bob Melvin puts Derek Norris (1.023 OPS) and Craig Gentry (.830) in the lineup with those five, that batting order would feature seven.800-plus OPS hitters. Alberto Callapso also has been hitting pretty well with a .755 OPS. It’s still early, we must caution. But a fine offensive beginning to the season, nevertheless.

A’s fans have come to expect good pitching from their team early on, year after year, but it has been more impressive than usual.

In the first month, they led the league in almost every category – ERA (2.78), WHIP (1.12), opponents’ batting average (.221), opponents’ on-base percentage (.282), opponents’ OPS (.608), opponents’ slugging percentage (.326) and fewest pitches per game (142.57). And it was across the board for starters and relievers.

It’s enough you have to wonder how they managed to lose 10 games. There are a couple of weak spots. The A’s won only two games started by the back end of the rotation, No. 4 Dan Straily, No. 5 Tommy Milone and one spot start by Josh Lindblom. This is lost in the glow of how good the top three – Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez – have been. Oakland won 16 of that trio’s 18 combined starts, including each of Kazmir’s six starts and Chavez’s six.

Second, the bullpen led the majors in blown saves with six, managing to save only five of 11 opportunities. Jim Johnson struggled early as the closer but has looked good recently, though in low-stress outings. A lot of the others have proven themselves in setup roles but have faltered at closing. If Johnson regains his form and successfully moves back into the closer role, everything falls into place.

If not, then maybe they give impressive newcomer Fernando Abad a shot, and perhaps he can step up the way Andrew Bailey did a few years back. Then in a couple of years they can trade him for the next Josh Reddick … Never mind, let’s stay focused on 2014.

As for the back end of the rotation, Milone has a history of being a gritty lefty and should be able to finesse some wins. As for Straily, somebody should sneak an old Doors’ song onto his I-pod: "China, light my fire!" Get aggressive, Dan. Be ... Dan the Man.

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