The Oakland A’s (48-34) played their 82nd game of the season on Wednesday, marking halfway through the 2021 season. It is hard to remember a time where the team lost six straight to start the season but bounced back to be within just 1/2 game of first place at the midway point.
The Houston Astros have been the A’s biggest contender for the AL West crown. The A’s won the AL West in 2020 but lost to the Astros when it mattered most in the ALDS. The Astros came out hot in 2021 and swept the A’s in four games to start the season, and the A’s quickly had to climb a mountain back to .500. But by April 20, Oakland stood as the sole leaders in the west. The A’s are currently in second place but have been in first most of the first half of the season.(table)
- 1st Place (or tied): 61 days
- 2nd Place (or tied): 11 days
- 3rd Place: 3 days
- 4th Place (or tied): 5 days
- 5th Place: 10 days
After traveling to New York and going 1-3 against the Yankees last month, the A’s traveled to Texas and split against the Rangers, opening the door for the Astros to find their way back to first. The A’s have two more weeks of baseball before the All-Star break set for July 13.
Bob Melvin reflected on his team’s success so far after completing the first half of the season:
“Recently here, probably hit a little bit of a soft spot for us. We’ve gone through some good stretches and some bad stretches. Right now, we’re probably not at our best. It would be nice to pick it up a little bit and finish strong going into the All-Star break. I think we are on pace to win 94 games, that means we’re a pretty good team. I think we are certainly indicative of what our record is but obviously we’d like to add a few more.”
The A’s have had lots of ups and downs during the first half. Oakland has utilized the injured list 16 times this season after only using it eight times in the shortened 60-game 2020 season and 17 times during the entire 2019 season. Key players like Ramón Laureano, Mark Canha, Stephen Piscotty, Trevor Rosenthal, J.B. Wendelken, Jesús Luzardo, Chad Pinder, Mike Fiers, Mitch Moreland and Burch Smith have all missed time. Rosenthal has yet to make an appearance after signing an $11 million. one-year deal. The odds of Rosenthal actually making an appearance this season seem slim, but time will tell.
Matt Chapman, Jed Lowrie and Elvis Andrus came off season-ending injuries or missed significant time in 2020. All have returned for 2021 season as everyday players. Many A’s are playing through minor injuries and making up for missing key players in the lineup day-to-day. Melvin said the past couple of games have nothing to do with fatigue though:
“We’ve gotten some off days here recently, I think in the second half we get a few more. I think we’ve been No. 1 in games played, one or two, the entire season but I don’t think fatigue is the case. I think always, when you see the All-Star break you know its there and then you have some guys that you are pulling for to make the All-Star team but I don’t think fatigues a factor.”
Lou Trivino was the first to come to mind for Melvin as this season’s biggest surprise, but he made it clear it was a tough question because he didn’t want to leave anybody out:
“We came to spring training, Lou and I talked and this was the position I hoped he would get back into and he’s always had the ability to do it. He has worked hard and should be proud of the fact that he’s pitching late in the games again, for the most part has been closing quite a lot of them and he’s been on a roll lately. That and maybe Kaprielian emerging to doing what he’s done really consistently as well. It has been nice.”
Trivino has taken over for Rosenthal when it comes to the closer role. Wendelken and Petit are part of the three key bullpen pieces that have allowed the A’s to have success. Wendelken spent 52 days on the injured list dealing with a strained left oblique, but his first inning back on Tuesday night was scoreless in a 5-4 loss to Texas.
Tuesday’s loss was the sixth of their last seven losses by a margin of two runs or fewer. The A’s are 18-17 in two-run ballgames this season. The A’s bullpen has blown four saves in the first half of the season. If they can piece together the perfect recipe to complete a game when their starter goes out, their record could be even better. The infield could improve on turning double plays; the A’s have the third-fewest double plays in the majors with 59.
Matt Olson has been Oakland’s hero since the start of the season and he has yet to hit a dry spell. Slashing .288/.370/.568 with 20 HR and 53 RBI, Olson is the player that comes to mind when you hear Melvin mention he is pulling for certain players to make the All-Star team this year. All attention used to go to Chapman, but Olson is finally getting the respect he deserves. From what he does defensively at first or at the plate, he continues to shine game after game.