Three games left to play in the first half and the A’s are only a game under .500. They’ve scored the third-fewest runs in baseball and six everyday position players have missed games because of injury. Opening Day starter Brandon McCarthy is in the midst of his second trip to the disabled list and neither Dallas Braden nor Brett Anderson have thrown a pitch in a game this season.
But somehow, the team is still within four games of a wild-card berth under Major League Baseball’s new playoff format. Of course, no one’s talking playoffs in Oakland’s clubhouse right now, but general manager Billy Beane and the group of youngsters he acquired in the offseason deserve some credit for the fact that the A’s are still playing exciting, meaningful games heading into the break.
Just when Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and McCarthy were starting to look like the next generation of the Zito-Hudson-Mulder tandem, Beane sent the first two pitchers packing for a younger set of arms even though both were under club control for at least four more seasons.
But A’s fans haven’t had to wait to see the return. While Cahill’s been so-so in Arizona (6-7, 3.63 ERA), 23-year-old Jarrod Parker and 25-year-old Ryan Cook, acquired in return, have kept the A’s out of the American League cellar with lights-out stuff on the mound. Since his April callup, Parker’s put together one of the best rookie stretches in major league history.
On Monday, he became the first pitcher since 1917 to allow no more than one run in 10 of his first 14 career starts, eclipsing Dwight Gooden’s mark of nine in 13 set during his historic 1984 season.
Like Parker, Cook made history this year by becoming the first pitcher since 1918 to open the season with more than 23 straight scoreless innings.
Cook moved into the closer role less than a month ago and his miniscule 1.50 ERA landed him a spot on the American League All-Star team on Sunday.
A’s fans would probably be shedding tears over losing Gonzalez, an All-Star who’s 11-3 record has helped propel the Washington Nationals to the National League’s best record through 80 games, if the team wasn’t getting solid production from the 25-year-old arm they gained in return. While the A’s have struggled to maintain a healthy rotation, Tommy Milone’s been Mr. Reliable, taking the hill every fifth day and leading the team in innings pitched (101.1) with a respectable 3.73 ERA.
And the bat Beane acquired for outfielder Ryan Sweeney and closer Andrew Bailey, who’s spent the entire season on the disabled list in Boston, has provided much of the pop in the A’s lineup this year. Outfielder Josh Reddick leads the team in hits, runs, batting average, on-base percentage, RBIs and home runs. In fact, his 19 homers accounts for almost a quarter of the total round trippers (81) the team’s smacked this season.
But if the A’s want to stick around, the bats of Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Brandon Inge, Jemile Weeks and Cliff Pennington will need to provide Reddick and the young arms more support. I’m not making any predictions for October baseball in the East Bay this year, but Beane’s new cast might just give A’s fans a reason to show up at the ballpark in the second half.
Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.