What’s Gone Wrong in the first half of 2016:
Sunday, after yet another late-inning loss to the Houston Astros, the A’s finished the first half of their season at 38-51. To be fair, they’ve played fewer games thus far in 2016, but it’s still not something to get excited about.
However, there are reasons to find optimism for the second half and hope for next season that were not present upon hitting the break in 2015. Actually, there are quite a few reasons that the Athletics’ season, and definitely future seasons, will be looking up.
In 2015, the bullpen was the team’s biggest problem. In 2016, the starting rotation has been the team’s biggest issue but for a different reason. The A’s expected to have time before they had to call up some of their best minor leaguers to make starts.
Unfortunately, that was not the case as Jarrod Parker, Chris Bassitt and Felix Doubrount all were scheduled to undergo surgery just prior to, and just after, the beginning of the regular season. Then Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman, who showed promise in 2015 as rookies (when they were healthy), both had major problems with their command.
While Graveman has seemingly found his stride, Hahn never did and remains in Nashville with the team’s Triple-A afiliate the Sounds. However, all the injuries that hurt the starting rotation and consequently pushed the bullpen to exhaustion early on do have a bright spot.
A Trio of Rookies:
The A’s were forced to call up a trio of rookies, all of whom have shown that, while they could probably use some more development in the minors, they have been able to hold their own in the big leagues. Sean Manaea was called up directly from Double-A Midland and Daniel Mengden and Dillon Overton each sped through the farm system, pitching very few innings at the Triple-A level.
While each of the young pitchers has had his struggles — and for Manaea that meant a stint on the disabled list — each one has shown he can succeed in the majors. At this point, with Mengden and Manaea still in the rotation (Overton returned to make a few more starts in Triple-A), it’s obvious that along with Graveman and either Sonny Gray or Rich Hill, the trio of kids will all, without a doubt, be starters next season. Not only that, they have shown that they will likely be very good starting pitchers in the major leagues.
A Solid Shortstop that can Rake:
Moving on from the pitching, A’s shortstop Marcus Semien had an atrocious year on the field in 2015, his first to ever play more than six games at the position in a single season. However, with his focus completely on learning his position and with the help of third base coach Ron Washington, Semien went from committing 12 errors in the month of May to just two in the month of September.
So far this season, Semien has just eight errors on the year and, even more impressively, he ended the first half of the 2016 season with a career-high 19 home runs.
With his focus no longer solely on learning how to play shortstop in the major leagues, Semien has been able to think more about his approach offensively and it has definitely paid off. The only Athletics shortstops to hit more home runs in an entire season than Semien has in the first half of 2016 are Miguel Tejada (who did so multiple seasons), Bobby Crosby and Bert “Campy” Campanaris, which is pretty incredible.
Knowing that your shortstop, one that led the league with 35 errors last season, not only can actually play defense but can also rake is a definite positive for the Athletics and their fans.
An All-Star Catcher:
Catcher Stephen Vogt was recently elected to his second All-Star Game in as many seasons.
This season, Vogt is hitting .277 with seven home runs and 26 RBI. His offensive production wasn’t the reason he was named to the All-Star Game for the second straight year. He was elected to the American League’s squad because of the way he can work with just about any pitcher while behind the plate.
He calls games well, and the A’s rookies have relied on him in their starts, as has 36-year-old veteran Rich Hill, who gives more credit to Vogt in his postgame interviews than to his own talent.
The good news is that at 31 years old, Vogt won’t be a free agent until 2020 and the A’s have the time and funds to keep him around. Vogt will certainly be a bright spot in 2017 when he helps Manaea, Overton and Mengden through their first full seasons as big leaguers, once again giving the A’s and their fans hope for the future.
There are undoubtedly more bright spots to come for the Athletics in 2017 and beyond, but these bright spots also bode well for the second half of 2016. If the A’s have already gone through the majority of their major injuries, and they should have — having used the disabled list 20 times already in 2016 — and if they can get their streaky hitting to be a bit more consistent then all signs point to a better second half of 2016 and a promising 2017.
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