The A’s are not likely to stop to applaud themselves after just 72 games, but by all rights, they should. Who would have expected a team that lost two-fifths of its starting rotation at the outset of the season to have the best record in baseball nine games shy of the midway point?
Think of all the other things that haven’t gone so swimmingly. Jim Johnson, for instance, and the bullpen as a whole early on. Dan Straily, a rotation mainstay last year, has spent most of the season in the minors. Remember how horribly Josh Reddick started the year, and then came the Josh Donaldson slump. Jed Lowrie still hasn’t hit a hot streak all year and he’s currently hitting just .222. Ryan Cook still hasn’t found his old self yet, and we have yet to see Kevin O’Flaherty. Eric Sogard, despite playing consistently on defense, is hitting .199.
I thought the A’s would be very good this year because they put together one of the most complete 25-man rosters in either league. That’s still the case, just with different personnel than everyone thought. Fortunately, Oakland has gotten a major lift from guys like Drew Pomeranz (until he decided to punch a chair the other day) and Tommy Milone. Relievers like Fernando Abad and Dan Otero have been models of consistency when Johnson faltered and Cook wasn’t ready to answer the bell. And Gregerson, after a rough start to the season, has been lights out of late.
As for the offense, the A’s have gotten significant contributions from role players like John Jaso, Derek Norris, Craig Gentry and Alberto Callaspo, and of late they’ve added Stephen Vogt and Kyle Blanks to that list. Those guys have been buffers for the main boppers, and while individually their numbers don’t leap off the page, the 3-4-5 combo of Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss has been pretty extraordinary — 47 homers and 155 RBIs from just those three alone. That’s more than half of the team’s entire home run total of 82 and nearly half the team’s RBI total of 352.
“I’m not sure too many teams have three guys in the middle of the order with that kind of production,” said Bob Melvin. “Then you have a guy like Norris behind them on top of that, and you feel like you have four guys who can knock in runs bigtime in the middle of the order.”
Moreover, I don’t know if there’s another team that has three catchers starting regularly together as the A’s have had lately. Wedneday, Jaso was behind the plate, with Norris at DH and Vogt in right field. When Melvin went to a late defensive switch, Vogt moved in behind the plate for the last two innings.
“It’s such a luxury,” the manager said. “Not only are they productive, they’re versatile. You can rest them, keep them sharp. I’ve never had a dynamic like this where you can actually use all three catchers. Usually, you just one on the bench just in case something happens. But these guys are all productive in different roles.”
The funny thing is, you get a strong sense the A’s haven’t played their best baseball yet. Obviously, you can’t ask much more from Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray or Jesse Chavez in the rotation or Sean Doolittle in the bullpen, but one suspects this offense still hasn’t hit its stride yet, and the bullpen, which was predicted to be one of the best in the game at the outset, can certainly be even better.
With that in mind, the A’s are already a leg up by getting to 44-28 despite all their myriad issues. Barring any more injuries, this team could really take off in July and August if even more pieces fall into place. In short, it’s a good time to be an A’s fan right now. And it could get better.