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Oakland A’s headlines we’d be reading if April hadn’t happened

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What would we be talking about if we only had the numbers from May?

The Oakland A’s ace (in May).
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Today is June 1, which means the 2018 MLB season has completed its first two months. The Oakland A’s have already experienced some ups and downs, sometimes looking like a dark-horse contender and other times like a doormat, but through it all they’ve been about the .500 team that we mostly expected. In March/April they went 14-14, and in May they went 15-14.

However, some of the finer details have changed quite a bit since our first impression in April. We spent the opening weeks marveling at Sean Manaea’s pitching, Jed Lowrie’s MVP-caliber bat, and a robust offense that would hopefully carry the team. May went differently, but it can be tough to forget those early perceptions. Therefore, let’s have a look at what the season’s storylines would be if April hadn’t happened.

All of these headlines are from a fictional universe in which the season started on May 1. Everything before that was spring training, or a weird dream you had, or whatever you want.

Sample headline if April hadn’t happened:

A’s pitching staff carries team in early going

Sample content:

Entering the season, the A’s identity was clear: Tons of offense, but short on pitching. We didn’t know how many games they’d win, but we knew they’d mostly be 10-8 affairs. Dingers for everyone!

Instead, the opposite has happened, because baseball. The lineup has scored the fifth-fewest runs in the sport, with just 104 through the first 29 games (3.59 per game), and their collective 77 wRC+ ranks 29th. They’re barely over the Mendoza Line (.211), they’re not getting on base (.277), and their power has only been mediocre (.159 isolated slugging).

Meanwhile, the pitching hasn’t dominated but it’s been completely decent. The whole staff is 10th in ERA (3.54) and 14th in FIP (4.18), even though they’ve already dealt with eleventy injuries and reached down to something like the 12th or 13th starter on the preseason depth chart (Frankie Montas). The rotation has been middle-of-the-pack and has done a good job of keeping the team in games, and the bullpen has only blown one of its 23 save/hold chances (10 saves, 12 holds, 1 blown) while sporting a 2.92 ERA that ranks fifth in MLB (and a 3.47 FIP, also tied for fifth).

Hopefully the offense will wake up as the weather warms, but for now we’ll have to get used to the A’s being a team based on quality pitching. That’s not unusual for Oakland, but it’s not what we were expecting this summer.

Sample headline if April hadn’t happened:

Daniel Mengden emerging as Oakland’s ace

Sample content:

The A’s rotation was always a question mark, but there were a few things we thought we knew. In particular, Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea were the anchors for now, and A.J. Puk was the next great hope for later in the summer. Instead, Graveman has made one start and is now in the minors and on the DL; Manaea has a 7.18 ERA through six outings thanks to a ton of hits and homers; and Puk is done for the year after Tommy John surgery. Welp.

But wait! There is another. Daniel Mengden has also made six starts, and they’ve mostly been excellent. He hung tough against the powerful Astros and Red Sox, tossed a shutout against the D’Backs, and nearly threw another against the Rays his next time out. Along the way he recorded 25 consecutive scoreless innings, the longest streak for an A’s starter since Cory Lidle in 2002.

Mengden, 2018: 1.51 ERA, 41⅔ ip, 24 Ks, 4 BB, 4 HR, 3.51 FIP

His 2.6% walk rate is third-best among MLB starters, and his ability to induce weak contact has helped keep his hit rate down. It remains to be seen how much of this early success he can sustain, but right now he’s exceeding every possible expectation. To be fair, Trevor Cahill has been almost equally incredible despite a brief DL stint (4 starts, 1.73 ERA, 3.01 FIP), but Mengden has him beat by a whisker if only because of superior health.

Never count out a bulldog.

Sample headline if April hadn’t happened:

Emilio Pagan looking like great addition

Sample content:

Not all of Oakland’s offseason trades are looking good so far. Stephen Piscotty has struggled at the plate, and Ryan Buchter has missed the entire season on the DL. But one unmitigated success has been Emilio Pagan, who is yet to allow a run.

Pagan had to wait until May 19 to get his turn in a crowded bullpen, but he’s now pitched in three games and looked as strong as advertised. In each appearance he’s gone multiple innings, and only two of his first 24 batters have managed hits. He hasn’t yet seen any high-leverage situations, but one way or other he’s contributing some zeroes to the cause.

Pagan, 2018: 0.00 ERA, 6⅓ ip, 7 Ks, 3 BB, 2 hits, 2.33 FIP

Of course the leader of the A’s dominant bullpen has been closer Blake Treinen, who is working out better than anyone could have hoped. He’s converted all 10 of his save chances, with an 0.59 ERA backed up by a sparkling 1.62 FIP. But it takes more than one star to make a good relief corps and Pagan has provided quite a boost, all while Ryon Healy posts his normal .299 OBP and mediocre 104 wRC+ in Seattle.

Another standout in the pen has been Danny Coulombe, who has struck out 15 of the 33 batters he’s faced (45.5%) while allowing just nine baserunners (1.85 FIP). Lou Trivino has been a nice find (1.26 ERA) but will have to do something about his untenable walk rate (10 BB in 14⅓ innings). Perhaps the biggest surprise has been Chris Hatcher, who has been pleasantly unterrible (1.35 ERA, 3.72 FIP, in 13⅓ ip).

Sample headline if April hadn’t happened:

Khrush and Olson anchor lineup, exactly as expected

Sample content:

The A’s lineup hasn’t been as strong as we’d hoped so far, but at least the names at the top make sense. Khris Davis and Matt Olson share the team lead with six dingers apiece, and they’re the only two hitters with wRC+ marks over the average of 100.

Khrush, 2018: .240/.301/.520, 121 wRC+, 6 HR, 7.2% BB, 26.5 Ks
Olson, 2018: .216/.298/.480, 112 wRC+, 6 HR, 9.6% BB, 21.9% Ks

Of course Olson isn’t continuing his superhuman slugging from last summer, but he’s off to a perfectly fine start to his sophomore season. His OBP is a bit low thanks to a .225 BABIP, but he’s drawing his walks and has actually posted an impressively low strikeout rate — if you want any indication that his batting average will recover, then that would be one great sign. Meanwhile, Khrush is doing his normal thing, collecting those homers despite already missing over a week on a rare DL stint.

As for the rest of the lineup? Jed Lowrie has been alright (99 wRC+), though not enough to make us forget about the hopefully imminent arrival of Franklin Barreto. But Marcus Semien (83 wRC+), Matt Joyce (78), Jonathan Lucroy (78), Chad Pinder (77), and Matt Chapman (66) have been completely silent. Everyone else has been even worse, and even another opportunity for Mark Canha hasn’t helped (58).

It’s great to see the two big names producing, but someone else is going to have to step up. Preferably someones else, and soon.

Stay tuned to see what new twists and turns June brings!