At the quarter pole of the season in mid-May, the 2014 Oakland Athletics were doing well—but they had room for improvement, due to a leaky bullpen and a few other issues. Now, at the halfway point of the season, the A's are in pretty good position, all things considered.
With their sweep of the Miami Marlins on the road over the weekend, Oakland has the best record in baseball (51-30) at the halfway point of the regular season. And they've done this playing the seventh-toughest schedule in the majors, as well. We may run out of superlatives to describe this team's first 81 games.
The A's have a 5.5-game lead in the American League West division over the Los Angeles Angels. They have a 5.5-game edge over the Detroit Tigers for the best record in the AL. And they have a 1.5-game margin on the Milwaukee Brewers for the best record in MLB, overall.
Yes, the Oakland organization is doing just fine so far this season.
But, for a "midterm" report card, let's dive into the details:
- Offense: The A's lead the majors in runs scored with 418 through 81 games. That's an average of 5.16 runs per game. The offense is second in on-base percentage (.335) and fifth in OPS (.724). Oakland has hit the fourth-most home runs in MLB so far, as well (89). Throw in the fact the A's lead in steals percentage (89%), and the Oakland lineup has been very efficient with its platoons and maximization of opportunity (see below). GRADE: A
- Defense: Oakland fielders have made 57 errors, which is the sixth-worst number in the majors. The team fielding percentage is the eighth-worst mark (.982). But you have to like the outfield arms (just Google "Cespedes throw") on the corners, and overall, these guys are making plays. In total, the A's have given up just 21 unearned runs as a result of the defensive lapses, and only four teams have done better than that so far in 2014. This Oakland team just doesn't hurt itself that often on defense. GRADE: B
- Starting rotation: The patchwork rotation has compiled a 3.32 ERA, which is the fifth-best mark in the majors. Opposing hitters have a .236 batting average against the Oakland rotation (fourth in MLB). These numbers have slid a little lately, but that's to be expected with the tough slate of opponents the A's have faced. Hard to pick a part this effort, although one hopes they can keep it up—or keep plugging the holes as well as they have already. GRADE: A
- Bullpen: After that rough start to the season, the Oakland bullpen has settled itself nicely. The ERA is fourth overall (2.87), and while the overall save percentage still is pretty bad (sixth worst in MLB), Sean Doolittle has been relatively lights out since assuming the closer role. The team's 9-5 record in extra-innings games is pretty solid, too. Jim Johnson—and his 1.943 WHIP—however, probably needs to go. GRADE: B
- Manager/coaching: Oakland is playing under its Pythagorean projection, thanks to the early bullpen lapses. But the team's ability to recover from adversity and maximize its chances can't be understated. Manager Bob Melvin continues to be the difference for this team, compared to past Billy Beane squads. Oakland is fifth in pinch-hit batting average, for example, showing Melvin really knows when to make changes. The stolen-base success also is a sign of good management. GRADE: A
If we give equal weight to all five areas, the 2014 Oakland A's are grading out to an A- right now as a whole, and that's an improvement from the B+ mark they received at the quarter point. The team has had 13 straight winning months in the regular season, which is a stellar testament to the organization as a whole.
This is a season shaping up to be special, and it's hard not to anticipate October opportunity. But again, the season is only half over: there's a long way to go for Melvin and his crew, so no one should be getting too excited just yet.