The first half of the season is over for the Oakland A’s, but there is no break now until the All-Star Game break in 14 games. But here is the real halfway point, and it’s looking good for the Green and Gold … real good.
They are 51-30, 21 games over .500 and on pace to post a 102-60 record for the season, which would be very tough to beat for the American League West crown or for the best record in the league for that matter. And given that they historically have played better in the second half, there’s no telling what’s possible from here on out.
Statistically, they have had the best pitching and the best offense. They lead the majors with a whopping run differential of plus-135, outscoring foes 418-283. In that they have been leading the AL in E.R.A. almost all season and their hitters have been leading the league in scoring, that the A’s lead in the majors in run differential is to be expected. But what is shocking is by how much.
Until a few weeks ago, indeed, it could be argued that Oakland should have posted an even better record than it had, given how big has been its run differential.
But a look at June, which ends Monday night in Detroit in the opener of a three-game series, reveals a slightly different story. The A’s continue to outscore all teams, but the margin, percentage wise, has not been as big, 128-105, a plus 23. The first two months they were a plus 112, an average of plus 56 a month.
Yet, in June the A’s have posted a 17-8 record, their best won-loss mark for a month so far, which means they are winning much closer games, as the three-game sweep in Miami illustrates, all three close until very late in the games, and the A’s trailed late in the first two.
One of the big things that jumps out is that the bullpen has been much better in handling tough, late-game situations than earlier in the season. Where one of the A’s biggest weaknesses earlier in the season was in blowing saves (leading the majors), the A’s actually lead the AL with a 10 saves in June, and their 10-3 save percentage is among the top five teams in the league. Thanks, Sean Doolittle, despite that blown save Saturday night.
There are, however, a few chinks showing up in their armor. Sunday was the first time in six games they held a team to three or fewer runs, allowing five or more runs in five straight games. And the A’s two aces – Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray – each had their roughest outings of the season in that stretch.
And while the A’s are leading the AL in scoring for the month, the question may be how they have done it. In June they are last in the league in doubles (33) and have slipped to 11th in slugging (.385) and ninth in OPS (.712). While still third on the season in homers (89), they are a middle-of-the-pack eighth with 24 in June and next-to-last in extra-base hits with 60.
It may just be a sign of mental toughness or team chemistry or some other intangible that can’t be quantified empirically. How to explain a pitcher (Jeff Francis) with a 6 something ERA getting the save Saturday by pitching out of a one-out, bases-loaded situation or Nate Freiman, just called up from the minors less than 24 hours and more 3,000 miles ago, coming up with the Big Bop on Sunday.
Just enjoy ride, A’s fans, and hope it lasts until oh … November.