It’s still early, but the underdog A’s could compete in a weak AL West division
It is only the third of May. Only a month of baseball has been played meaning that there are still five months left in the regular season. A lot can happen in five months so nothing is guaranteed. Teams that are excelling now can falter (remember the 2014 Oakland Athletics?) and teams that are at .500 can turn into power houses (see the 2015 New York Mets).
However, the current state of the American League West is looking mediocre. All five teams are just above or just below the .500 mark and only seven games separates the first place Texas Rangers (15-11) and the, surprisingly, last place Houston Astros (8-18). Right in the middle of the pack, just 2.5 games behind the Rangers are the Athletics.
The A’s may not appear to be the strongest team. Are there are certain issues they need to address in order to change their position in the division? Of course, but given the seemingly average nature of each of the AL West teams at this point, the division appears to be weak and almost up for grabs.
One good or one bad month, especially in the second half of the season could decide which team takes the weak AL West Division title for the 2016 season. There is no reason that the A’s couldn’t be that team.
Currently, the A’s are doing quite well in most areas. The bullpen, their biggest weakness in 2015, has been their biggest asset in 2016. In the AL West the A’s bullpen is currently second in collective ERA (2.42). They’ve allowed the fewest number of walks out of all five teams and the fewest number of home runs.
The starting pitching staff has been spotty at times, Rich Hill’s Opening Day start wasn’t top notch and even ace Sonny Gray had an off day last week in Detroit where he lasted just two innings. On the whole however, even though changes have been made, they compare well with the rest of the AL West and actually, the American League as well.
The combination of A’s starters: Gray, Hill, Kendall Graveman, Eric Surkamp, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt and Jesse Hahn have a collective ERA of 3.55 which is second in the AL West behind the Seattle Mariners. They are tied for first in the West with the Mariners in quality starts as well.
One thing that would help the A’s starting staff is for each pitcher to go deeper into games. Each starter, with the exception of Gray who has pitched into the seventh inning or later in four of his five starts, has averaged approximately 5.2 innings per start. While that isn’t terrible, it does put more strain on the bullpen and they do not want to put too much mileage on the bullpen arms too early in the season.
However, Hahn came back from a stint in the minors looking more like his 2015 self, pitching a three-hit gem for the A’s against the Detroit Tigers last week.
The A’s are also looking forward to the return of Henderson Alvarez, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. Assuming he returns to his healthy 2014 self, the rotation will not be as fluid and should stabilize, allowing the pitchers to become more comfortable in their roles and more confident in their performance.
Offensively the A’s have definitely been hitting but if they want to have a chance at the AL Western Division title, their hitting will have to be more timely. In the past week the team went 3-4 playing against the Tigers and Astros. During that span they were 14-48 with runners in scoring position and left a total of 45 runners stranded, meaning they could have scored almost six more runs per game. With more timely hitting the team would likely have had a winning record last week.
To read more about the A’s offense and what they can do to make a run for the AL Western Division title, you can read the remainder of my column on Today’s Knuckleball by following the link below: