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Halfway point: Athletics Nation staff roundtable

The AN front-page crew sat down and answered five questions about the A's at the midpoint of the season.

The only trio of 50-RBI teammates in baseball.
The only trio of 50-RBI teammates in baseball.
Mike Stobe

The Oakland Athletics have played 84 of their 162 regular-season games for the season, which means that we're at the famous 52 percent mark of the season. Therefore, the front-page crew decided to answer a few questions about the state of the team, both to look back and to look forward. Here is what everyone had to say!

The questions:

1. Do the A's need to add a piece at the deadline, and if so, who should they get?

2. What was your favorite moment of the first half?

3. First half team MVP?

4. Favorite aspect of this A's team?

5. Compare/contrast to 2012 and 2013 A's.

Alex Hall

1. I can't speak to an exact "who," but I know "what" I want the A's to get. My first priority is starting pitching. I've been outspoken since the beginning of the season that, despite the talent in the current rotation, there are longevity concerns for each guy. Drew Pomeranz (when he returns) and Dan Straily are available as depth, but I'm not interested in relying on a guy like Arnold Leon in a pennant race when there is plenty of time to plan ahead now. It doesn't have to be Price or Samardzija, but a mid-tier guy like Jason Hammel or even a buy-low like Brandon McCarthy would make me feel a lot better about Sept. and Oct. I'm starting to think that a deal with the Mets for Bartolo Colon and Daniel Murphy might be my favorite option, because I think it can be done without parting with Addison Russell.

2. Man, that's nearly impossible to answer. There have already been so many dramatic moments and they've all kind of run together in my memory (along with the great moments of the last two seasons). My first thoughts are John Jaso's pinch-hit homer off of Angels closer Ernesto Frieri and Josh Donaldson's walk-off against Detroit's Joe Nathan, and between those I'd side with Donaldson based on the fact that it was a walk-off (Jaso's was on the road) and because it was simply more recent (and thus fresher in my memory). Overall, though, the best memory has been the general tendency for late-inning comebacks and the ability to break quality closers (Nathan, Uehara, Soriano, Balfour, Cishek, etc.).

3. It's gotta be Donaldson, although it's close (and even closer after his horrid June). The three-pronged attack of Donaldson, Cespedes and Moss stands out as a unit to me and it's tough to pick just one of them above the rest. But those are the easy choices; we all know that they are the core of the lineup. If I were to pick one guy beyond them, I think I'd go against every sabermetric instinct in my body and say Sean Doolittle. Normally I'd never pick a reliever for such an honor (in which case I'd go with Kazmir), but the back-end of the bullpen was such a crippling weakness in the early going, and Doolittle turned it around so completely, both single-handedly and with such historic dominance, that it really felt like he plugged the only real breach in the team's hull. He saved them from dropping from a great team to a good team, recent missteps notwithstanding.

4. The never-say-die attitude. This team just never, ever gives up. It doesn't matter how far down they are; even when the Rangers took a 10-2 lead in the fifth on June 16, the A's still brought the tying run to the plate later in the evening. And if they're down three runs in the ninth, you still know there's a legitimate chance that they could come back and win. They don't always complete the comeback, but they almost always give you a reason to stand up and hold your breath as the tying or winning run steps to the dish. As a fan, that is the absolute best feeling you can get from your team -- the feeling that there's always hope. And isn't hope, of a title, of a walkoff, of a fantastic performance, of an exciting play, the real reason why we all watch sports in the first place?

5. The 2012 A's were all about exceeding expectations with a rookie team and patching holes on the fly as things continually made their best efforts to fall apart. They felt like the 1999/2000 A's, in a way, as the scrappy squad that you believed in more because of faith than because of objective reasoning. But there were weaknesses and flukish and/or unsustainable performances throughout that roster. The 2013 A's were more complete, but they still felt like just another awesome team. This 2014 club is dominant. This team hits better than any A's squad I can remember, and the pitching feels almost robotic in its consistency (not greatness, just consistent good-ness). There's also the maturity; these guys feel like the kinds of grown-up stars that we usually can't afford to have, rather than the scrappy rookies that we're used to. Last year, I went into the season expecting to compete in the playoffs. This year, I entered expecting to win the World Series. That's only a degree of difference, but it's a pretty important degree.

One other thing I've noticed, and this is a subjective thought since I haven't checked for numbers to back it up, but it feels like the platoons have come down a notch this year. That gives me the feeling that the A's are made up of better all-around players, rather than lots of flawed guys who need to be pieced together just right. You still want to hide Jaso and Sogard against lefties (and preferably Sogard against righties as well), but otherwise I'm comfortable with anyone batting against pitchers of either hand. I wouldn't even mind seeing Freiman or Gentry hit against righties, though it wouldn't be my first choice. This extra versatility gives Melvin more options in the late innings, since every pinch hitter doesn't have to satisfy a precise platoon matchup. Also, and somewhat related, the team's depth and versatility have increased in each of the last two years. Heck, these days the pinch-hitter doesn't even have to play the same position as the guy he replaces and Melvin will still find a way to make the defense work. That team-oriented play gives me flashbacks to the 2001 Mariners.

Billy Frijoles

1. I think they need a bat. Arnold Leon looks like he can step into the rotation if needed, but one injury to Cespedes or Moss and this lineup is weak. Some natural trade targets are players on the Diamondbacks, Rays, Rockies, or Padres. I'd like Carlos Quentin.

2. The Cespedes game. I was there, and my parents who rarely come out to games joined me. They got to see a great show, first with the old-timers in the 1974 reunion, the gun of Cespedes twice in one inning, and then the seven-run (IIRC) seventh that went on for a loooong time. That was fun.

3. Tough call, but with Donaldson's latest slump I'd go with Scott Kazmir. He's been everything and then some for the rotation. Honorable mentions: Crisp, Cespedes, Donaldson and Moss. Very hard to pick just one.

4. Buying into the pinch hitting. They all clearly want to play but they all are open to jumping in and jumping out at any time depending on the situation, and they just cheer on the next guy. That is fun to watch and it allows BoMel to mix and match as much as he wants.

5. I think the rotation was stronger last year with Parker, Colon, and Gray coming on at the end, but this team has more depth. Last year Vogt, Reddick, and Sogard all had to bat in a row. Now Vogt is awesome, we have Blanks and Gentry and one of our three catchers ready to pinch hit, Alberto Callaspo seems to be halfway decent. It's a deeper team but can't depend on the pitching night in and night out. In some ways it's more similar to the 2012 team, although the 2012 team had three glaring holes (SS, 2B, and C) and a slew of rookies in major roles. This team hasn't played a rookie all season and really has one hole (2B) that probably can be patched up by Punto and Callaspo (if you assume that RF can be adequately handled by a combo of Blanks, Reddick, Gentry, and Vogt).

Jeremy F. Koo

1. It's funny, Billy Beane has said he's astounded by how many buyers there are on the market right now with how even the Wild Card races are going. All we might see from the front office is to just generally get involved in trades the A's have no business being involved in just to make other players more expensive to other teams. Second base, while tempting, sounds expensive, and expensive just isn't this front office's M.O. If we pick someone up, it's not going to be someone you expect.

Frankly, if we go into buy mode, I don't know what we're buying with unless it's one of our left-handed catchers or Addison Russell. John Jaso is the only one with any pedigree to be worth anything on the trade market.

2. I'm going with getting three in the ninth against Houston to win 4-3 on April 19 because it was such a team effort. Home run Lowrie, Donaldson walk, Cespedes single, Jaso strikeout, Callaspo single, Reddick single. It felt like the start of what we've seen this whole season, that the A's are never out of it.

3. Coco Crisp has quietly come alive in the first half and always seems to be there for that clutch base hit or walk to push the A's either over the top or blow the game wide open.

4. My favorite aspect of this team is how the platoon and positional flexibility has enabled Bob Melvin to evolve beyond a previous tendency to go position player for position player and be more willing to take chances on things like three catcher lineups or holding back a power bat on the slightly wrong side of a platoon so that the opposing manager is in a no-win situation when he brings in a reliever in the late game.

5. With 2012 it was simply hitting the high end of variance after a long string of awful luck in injuries and projections falling short. 2013 was seeing most of those guys from 2012 continue their performances. What makes 2014 so special is that we're seeing the maturity start to kick in. This team has now gone 84 games without using a rookie after the 2012 team started four rookie pitchers in the postseason. It's the only team that has gone more than 82 games without using a rookie since the 1971 Baltimore Orioles went 152 games, and Earl Weaver took his club to seven games against the Pirates that year.

This roster has seen the highs and lows of a Major League season. They know that slumps pass, that sometimes you have more than a dozen games in a row without a day off, that you can't get too high or too low in a season because a big division lead can disappear just like that. The 2012 and 2013 teams relied on their manager to tell them that, but now I think they've internalized it.

Jerry Brewer (EBHI)

1. Yes. The A's should aggressively go after Troy Tulowitzki. My proposal of Tulo for the Midland Rockhounds is still on the table. If Oakland has to sweeten the deal, throw in the stadium. But ultimately I don't think the A's will make a major move because the cupboard of "Major League ready" minor leaguers is pretty dry.

2. Best moment of the first half was Donaldson's walk-off home run. I even wrote a GIF-free article about it.

3. Difficult one, but I give Donaldson the nod over Cespedes and Moss, barely. I really like the steadiness Moss has shown as well as the versatility to play the outfield. Donaldson and Cespedes have both had their ups and downs, but Moss has been really solid. Still, Donaldson.

4. They have a good chance to play meaningful September games. My first couple years following the team (2010, 2011) they didn't really have even a puncher's chance of making the playoffs. Meaningful September baseball is so much fun.

5. Legit-ness (if that's a word.) 2012 & 2013 I was kinda praying the magic wouldn't run out. But I don't have to anymore, these guys are just good. I think there are fewer holes on the team, especially over the 2012 team. The 2014 team is better built to handle some difficult times by a player or two and still remain on track.

Lev Facher

1. Yes, a starting pitcher. Brad Mills has been effective lately but doesn't figure in the team's plans come September/October, and between Pomeranz and the current rest of the rotation, somebody else is bound to get hurt. Brandon McCarthy seems like a good, low-cost option -- he plays for a non-contender, is playing at an extremely hitter-friendly park, and has a track record of success in Oakland.

2. Stephen Vogt and John Jaso's home runs in the ninth inning against Boston on June 22. No, the A's didn't win, but the fact that they were able to come back from a five-run deficit, against an elite closer and in front of a sellout crowd to boot, speaks volumes about the team's capability.

3. The first-half MVP has to be Scott Kazmir, who has quickly turned himself into Oakland's ace. His ERA is 2.61, the A's have a good chance to win every time he takes the mound, and he's been as consistent as any MLB starter. Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, and Sean Doolittle have made good cases for themselves, too.

4. Versatility. Bob Melvin has a lineup for every temperature, time of day, and the color of his hotel room wall. It's not a team relying on a core group of stars -- every player on the 25-man roster is expected to contribute, which is something you don't see often in the Major Leagues.

5. The obvious difference between this year and 2012/13 is that everybody overlooked Oakland in 2012, and many did the same in 2013. Not this year -- everyone knew the A's were coming, yet here they are anyway, sporting MLB's best record, best run differential, best [insert relevant statistic here]. This team is likely better, not in any one significant way but in several minor ways, because Billy Beane didn't have much to improve on in the first place.

Scott Parker (OmahaHi)

1. Yes. I'm of the opinion the A's should go almost (not Russell) all-in. This type of team comes around once a decade and the A's haven't played in a World Series since 1990. At least a No. 3 level starting pitcher, at least one half of a better platoon option at 2B and if possible another closer for when Doolittle is tired.

I would rather keep Russell, but if the A's decided to trade him, I would target Johnny Cueto from the Reds and I would overpay as needed. Cueto is having a fantastic year in a tiny park.

2. The "throw." I think the best gif I saw was the one where the throw caught on fire in the air like a video game.

3. Has to be Billy Beane for me. I jest. It really should be Josh Donaldson having a second A.L. MVP like year while making third base look easy to play.

4. Leading the league in scoring. The A's always have pitching when they're good, but the scoring and blowouts are unusual. Loving it. Leading the league in outfield assists has also been a lot of fun to watch.

5. The team just keeps getting better. 2012 was the best kind of lucky more than good, 2013 they were good but still not great. 2014 they have just been great. The 2014 A's would kick the 2012 A's butts. The A's front office had a good plan this offseason with all the depth and it has worked brilliantly so far.


What are your answers to the five questions? Let us know in the comments!