Welcome to the first weekly review of the 2015 season! I'm going to play around with different formats with this series this year, so if you see something you like or don't like then please let me know in the comments so that this can evolve into a post that you look forward to reading every week.
Oakland Athletics Week 1, April 6 - April 12
4/6: A's def. Rangers, 8-0 -- Game #1: It's a Sonny new day in Oakland
4/7: Rangers def. A's, 3-1 -- Game #2: A's squander all the chances
4/8: A's def. Rangers, 10-0 -- Game #3: A's grind the Rangers into dust
4/9: Rangers def. A's, 10-1 -- Game #4: Graveman buried in first MLB start
4/10: A's def. Mariners, 12-0 -- Game #5: I Like Ike/Canha; A's wallop Mariners
4/11: Mariners def. A's, 5-4 (11) -- Game #6: A's fight hard, fall short in 11 innings
4/12: Mariners def. A's, 8-7 (10) -- Game #7: Hahn unravels after superb outing
Total: 2-2 vs. Rangers, 1-2 vs. Mariners, 43 runs scored, 26 runs against (plus-17)
Top position player: Sam Fuld (seriously)
Fuld, 26 PAs: .375/.423/.625, 2 doubles, 2 triples, 5 runs, only 1 K, and ~87 diving catches in CF
(Honorable mention: Stephen Vogt -- .368/.455/.684, 1 double, 1 triple, 1 HR, 5 RBI)
Top pitcher: Sonny Gray
Gray. 2 starts: 0.59 ERA, 15⅓ innings, 7 Ks, 2 BB, 7 hits, 1 HR, 1-1 team record
(Honorable mention: Scott Kazmir and Drew Pomeranz each threw 7 dominant, scoreless innings.)
- A's win first Opening Day since 2004
- Sonny Gray takes no-hitter into 8th inning on Opening Day
- Mark Canha hits first career home run
- Tyler Ladendorf collects first career hit (a triple!)
- Kendall Graveman makes first career start
- A's sign Cody Ross and add him to lineup (vs. LHP)
- Josh Reddick returns from disabled list
My favorite highlight: Canha's first homer, signalling that his power might play in the Majors. No offense to Sonny and his gem in the opener, but I've been waiting months to see this homer.
We here at Athletics Nation have high hopes for the 2015 A's season. We saw all the offseason trades, we took a deep breath, and we once again learned to love a new group of players before even watching them play. Optimism abounds, as it does for virtually every fanbase in early April, but the reality is that we are still in information-gathering mode. We don't yet know how this team will turn out, nor even which members will play well enough to stick around for the second half.
Well let me tell you, the first impression that these Athletics provided was wonderful. It wasn't perfect, not by any means, but it was pretty close to a best-case scenario. The most important thing I can relay from these first seven games is that this team still knows how to fight. I know that sounds vague and subjective, and it really is more of a "feel" thing. The 2012-14 A's showed a knack for the dramatic, for staying focused through the final out, for never saying never and then actually following through and rising back to victory. Down 6-4 in the ninth and staring at an All-Star closer? No worries, there was still a great chance that they'd find a way. The games stayed as exciting as ever, even when the A's were trailing and things seemed objectively hopeless.
I was terrified of losing that edge. With great turnover can come a new identity, but it looks like the holdovers and/or the coaching staff have retained that ability to fight to the bitter end. The scientific among us will argue that this is simply a product of being good, and that getting good players will lead to wins, some of which will be of the comeback variety. The cynical among us will point out that all that fight still wasn't enough to earn victories in either of the two extra-inning games against the Mariners. The realistic among us will note that, fight or no, those two losses count in the standings and that "almost" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
I prefer a different approach. I'm just gathering info. Yes, the losses count, and we know as well as anyone that even one win can mean the difference between making the postseason or going home. But we also know that being the best team in baseball at the end of July is utterly meaningless, so at some point there is value in focusing on the greater themes and story lines, things that will have long-term implications for the six-month campaign, and then worrying about the specifics of the standings when the dust settles and the pennant picture starts to come more into focus. The A's lost back-to-back games by mere inches, and most likely they will win a couple by mere inches somewhere down the road, probably deserving them no more than they deserved to lose against the Mariners. That kind of thing usually evens out over 162 contests, but it looks more glaring when the available sample size includes only the first seven of them.
So, instead of fretting about a blown call here, a wild throw there, or a misplaced pitch being deposited over the fence at the worst possible time, I'm more interested in the greater things we learned from the team. Do you remember what the A's record was in the first week of 2014? Me neither. But this current group has another 155 games left, and we just got our first look at what they have to offer. Turns out you should still never stop watching an A's game early, because it's never over until the final out.
To begin, the offense can still score runs. They can score lots of runs, in fact, and they can do so in a variety of ways. They already rank second in MLB in raw scoring (43 runs), and fourth in runs per game (6.14). Those rankings will both cool down a bit as the season heats up -- no team scored five runs per game last year, much less six -- but considering that the offense was a major source for concern heading into the year it is exceedingly reassuring to see almost everyone off on the right foot. I mean, look at these numbers through the first week:
Vogt: 1.139 OPS
Fuld: 1.048 OPS
Butler: .947 OPS
Canha: .920 OPS
Ike: .908 OPS
... and those are only the guys who are hitting over .300 already. Butler is hitting .407 (11-for-27). Again, these are tiny-sample April stats, so my point isn't to get excited that Canha is hitting .360. It's to get excited that Canha isn't 1-for-22 to start his career, because despite our optimism none of us really knew if he'd be able to hit or not. And we still don't, but we have our first data points suggesting he can. Gather that information. Fuld's 2-win performance from last year might actually carry over. Vogt probably wasn't a flash in the pan in 2014. Butler probably just had an off-year last season. None of these stories are anywhere near complete, and each of these guys can still falter, but on the other hand Ben Zobrist and Brett Lawrie haven't heated up yet, and Josh Reddick has barely played.
The lineup is hitting for average, it's drawing walks and getting on base, it's got speed, and what it's lacked so far in homers it's made up for in doubles and triples. It can string together a crooked number while batting around in one inning, just like last year, or it can bear down in the ninth and manufacture the one run it needs to stay in the game. And, of course, it has the platoon advantage more often than not. There is still plenty of time for the league to adjust to these hitters and the A's will have to re-adjust right back, but the early returns really couldn't be better for what was supposed to be the biggest question mark on the roster.
The defense has been magnificent. There have been errors, and costly ones at that, and in fact they share the MLB lead in that department so far. But once again we must remove ourselves from the individual events and look for the greater truth. The outfield is an absolute vacuum -- Fuld and Gentry can run down anything, Zobrist has good range, Canha is totally adequate, and I choose to take it easy on Reddick for his ill-timed dropped-ball error on Sunday because we all know what he can do in the field. Remember, he missed all but one day of the Cactus League, so that was essentially his second game since September.
In the infield, Ike Davis is a pickin' machine, with even smoother hands than I expected. Like Barton and Moss before him, he ranges too far to his right for ground balls, but the bright side of that weakness is that he has tons of range and mobility. It's like a weakness you cite in your job interview: "I just get to too many ground balls." Sogard is still an ace at second, and Lawrie might be even better than Donaldson at getting to balls at the hot corner -- though his arm is also even wilder than Donnie's. And Semien, the lynchpin of the team in my opinion, has been perfectly decent at short. He's made a few errors and he won't win any awards out there, but he also won't sink the team with an iron glove. His range is fine, his arm is fine, his hands are fine -- everything is just fine, which is worse than good but better than bad. You can't be awesome everywhere on the diamond, but you can avoid being terrible anywhere. So again, ignore the specific errors for now -- the outfield is made up mostly of elite defenders, and the infield is above-average all around except for a merely adequate shortstop.
As for the pitching, the results have been mixed with a tilt toward positive. The dynamic was supposed to include Sonny and Kazmir as the steady hands at the top, the rocks anchoring the rotation. Behind them, the young guns would develop, but they'd be able to go at their own paces with the two stars at the top ready to back them up and avoid long losing streaks. Well, the two rocks have held up so far, with three magnificent starts in three tries. As for the three works-in-progress, Drew Pomeranz is yet to allow a run, Jesse Hahn has shown flashes but also inconsistency, and Kendall Graveman is taking a mulligan after getting rocked in his debut. Again, things haven't been perfect. But the known quantities (Sonny & Kaz) have been as expected (if not better), and the unknown quantities have combined to be more good than bad. As for the bullpen ... well, let's not go there. Analyzing a bullpen after one week is a fool's errand. The first impression in that department hasn't been good, but they're also missing their closer (Sean Doolittle), so grading them yet feels premature.
We've already had a couple of heartbreakers in this young season, but we should be used to that by now. If Semien steps on second, if Reddick makes that catch, if the ump calls strike three down the middle to Austin Jackson, if Fuld's throw home was half a second earlier or Brad Miller's was half a second later, if any two of those things happen then the A's are probably 5-2 right now. The imaginary wins don't count, but the talent behind them does when it leads to future victories. They made three comebacks in just the last two games, and while that also means they blew a few leads along the way, there are worse ways to blow games than giving up key dingers to the reigning MLB leader in homers. If I told you last month that the A's would knock out Felix the first time they saw him, and also break Fernando Rodney in the same afternoon, I bet you wouldn't have even asked if we went on to win the game. Some small victories really are enough on their own, at least in early April. If they keep falling an inch short, day after day for weeks, then we can start to worry. But no one misses all of the short hops for six straight months.
As long as Oakland's version of a bad game is that their almost-rookie pitcher throws five no-hit innings before their Gold Glove right fielder flubs a play in his first game off the DL, and their four-run ninth-inning rally off an All-Star closer isn't quite enough, then I'll be satisfied. Because when they have a good game they win 10-0.