The second half of the season is upon us! Well, that's not exactly true. The A's have played 95 games out of their 162-game schedule, so we passed into the second half long ago. So, the last 41.4% of the season is upon us!
Oakland had an incredible first half. Not only was it better than any of us could have reasonably hoped, it was one of the best first halves in the Majors - Oakland enters the second half with the fourth-best record in MLB, on pace for 95 wins. The obvious question is whether or not the A's can maintain this success for another 67 games and punch their ticket for October Madness. Since that question is a bit too vague, let's stick to a few more specific topics. For the purpose of this article, I am going to avoid questions about trade speculation; that can be left to another post, or to the current open thread on the topic.
#1: Will Bartolo Colon pitch, and if so, will he continue at this level?
The giant elephant in the room for the last several weeks has been Bartolo Colon. That is, his presence on the Biogensis list, and the possibility that he might be suspended at some point for his involvement. To be honest, I haven't believed for a single second that anyone would be suspended this year as a result of the Biogensis scandal. The Player's Union is too strong to get even the smallest things accomplished, and suspending a bunch of stars without positive tests just seemed like a really far-fetched thing to get by them so quickly. Indeed, it seems that appeals won't even begin until September, and it appears unlikely that anything will come of this until the 2014 season.
That's the good news. I fully expect that Colon will be allowed to pitch for the rest of the season, and he's been a huge part of Oakland's early success. The question is whether he can pitch as well as he has for the rest of the season, or at even close to it. Indeed, you could argue that the 40-year old Colon is having a career year, depending on which stats you prefer. Can he maintain the new-found super-control that is the signature of his success? He's also on pace to throw around 212 innings this year, and he hasn't surpassed 164 since 2005. Will his arm hold up for a full-season workload? It didn't in 2011, but that could be attributed to his long injury layoff. We didn't get to find out in 2012, since he got suspended after 152 innings.
Colon has been the ace of Oakland's staff this year. Will he stay healthy and effective for another 12 or 13 starts, plus the postseason? Hey, I only said I was going to ask three questions, not answer them.
#2: Who maintains his first-half performance: Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, or neither?
Oakland's team is built on depth rather than a few stars, but Donaldson and Cespedes are pretty clearly the two most important guys in the lineup. Donaldson has been the A's best hitter by far, which is surprising but not completely unbelievable. Cespedes has actually been a below-average hitter (98 OPS+, 94 wRC+), which is also surprising but not completely unbelievable. Can Donaldson maintain anything close to his current production? And can Cespedes rebound, or has the league figured him out? There are plenty of strong hitters in the lineup, so Oakland doesn't necessarily need one of these guys to be a superstar. However, it would sure help if one of them stepped up to lead the charge in the second half.
There is every reason to believe that Donaldson is for real, from his plate discipline to his batted ball profile to his history of high BABIP's in the minors. Only time will tell, though. Will he be receiving MVP votes at season's end, or will he go the way of Josh Reddick in 2012? (Note: Reddick did receive MVP votes in 2012, but shut up, you know what I mean.)
Cespedes wowed the nation with his performance in the Home Run Derby, but that has little real-world application. In fact, power hasn't been his problem; he's one away from the team lead in homers, and his isolated power is nearly .200. Contact also hasn't been an issue, as he's hitting the ball exactly as often as he did last year (73.3%). He's striking out more, and hitting more fly balls which don't go over the fence, but otherwise there doesn't seem to be anything stopping him from a rebound in the second half (especially if that .251 BABIP can come up a bit). Will there indeed be a Cespedes for the rest of us? Can he add at least 100 points to his .713 OPS by season's end?
#3: Will any of the big prospects contribute in 2013?
Oakland promoted two big prospects just before the All-Star Break: infielder Grant Green, and pitcher Sonny Gray. Green went 0-for-9 with five strikeouts, which is bad. Gray threw two innings of relief and retired six of the seven batters he faced, striking out three. That's good! These tiny samples don't tell us anything, though, except that the A's think these two players are ready for the Majors.
Oakland's rotation is not as deep as it was last year. Colon, Jarrod Parker, and A.J. Griffin have all been strong, but Tommy Milone and Dan Straily have run hot and cold. If either of them loses his job, or if Colon gets hurt, Gray will be the one stepping in to fill the hole. Can he succeed in a Major League rotation during a pennant run? Or will the other starters hold up, leaving him as a long-man in the pen? Will he even be on the roster in the second half, or will the A's keep him in AAA until he's needed as a starter?
Green could be a very important player in Oakland's second half. He could fill a huge area of need for the A's: right-handed-hitting middle infielder. Billy Beane won't have time to judge Green before the July 31 trade deadline, but then, he acquired Stephen Drew in August last year; if Green immediately carries over his success from Sacramento, then Beane may feel comfortable avoiding any drastic moves next week. Can Green hit enough to earn a platoon role with Eric Sogard? Furthermore, can he hit enough to make up for any defensive shortcomings he might have? Can the A's afford a defensive combo of Green and Jed Lowrie in the middle of the infield?
Then, there's Michael Choice. He's cooled off a bit lately, but still has solid numbers in Sacramento and could be an option if any members of Oakland's fragile outfield have to miss time. Will he make his debut in 2013, beyond a few token September at-bats? If he does, will he be able to produce in whatever role he's given?
The A's relied heavily on rookies in 2012, and often get late-season production from inexperienced young players. Will they get that boost again this year? Will they even need it?
Like I said, I'm not here to answer any of these questions. I'm just asking 'em. Perhaps Nicodamus can shed some light on all of this.