The 2014 Oakland Athletics have played 41 games so far this season, to the tune of a 25-16 record and a three-game lead in the American League West division. Projected, at this pace, to the end of the full season, the A's are headed on a trajectory towards a 99-win season and another playoff berth.
If only it were that easy! The regular season is just 25 percent or so complete; thus, it's hard to project anything with any certainty, but this still is a good start to a season by any standards. For those who watch the Oakland club every day, however? We know these first 41 games could have been a lot better.
So, for a "quarter term" report card, let's dive into the details:
- Offense: The A's are second in MLB overall in runs scored, with 205 through 41 games. That's exactly five runs a game, although they don't have anyone batting over .279 who qualifies for the batting title currently. Oakland is second in the majors in on-base percentage, however, and the A's lead MLB with an 89% success rate on stolen-base attempts. Yes, they've been held to two runs or less eight times this season, winning only one of those games. But they've scored five or more times in 16 different contests in 2014, and they've lost only once under that circumstance. Overall, it's hard to give this bunch any other mark. GRADE: A
- Defense: Oakland has made 32 errors so far, and that's the fifth-worst number in baseball right now. The overall team fielding percentage (.980) is seventh worst. Shortstop Jed Lowrie (.961) and Third baseman Josh Donaldson (.951) have struggled in limiting the errors, but neither is an eyesore, either. In fact, Donaldson is often brilliant, while both players' bats are plentiful in compensation at their demanding positions. Bright spot: the team given up only nine unearned runs so far, which is the third best in the majors. Credit the pitchers and the defense as a whole for not letting those errors harm them too much. GRADE: B
- Starting rotation: The A's starting rotation, some of it patchwork to cover for injuries to two projected starters, has done amazing work, all things considered. The 16-8 record is second best in MLB, and the starting ERA (2.93) is third best. Opponents are posting a league-worst .633 OPS against the Oakland starting rotation, and if Drew Pomeranz and Tommy Milone can keep up the efforts they both showed their last two times out (combined 24 IP, one ER and 24 Ks), respectively, the rotation will be okay for 2014. GRADE: A
- Bullpen: Overall, the Oakland bullpen ERA (3.10) is sixth in the majors, which is very good. As we know, the situational results have been painful. With a 9-8 record and eight blown saves (second-worst mark in baseball right now), the A's relievers have been taking it on the chin and truly preventing this team from being as great as it can be, currently. Glue guys like Dan Otero have been great, by the way (2.08 ERA in 21.2 IP). This is the team's true weak spot right now, at the quarter pole. GRADE: C+
- Manager/coaching: Based on run differential, the A's have an expected record right now of 29-12, and quite often, the managerial decisions impact that correlation. But again, we've all seen the bullpen just blow up at the wrong times. Manager Bob Melvin has won multiple Manager of the Year awards, and that gives him the benefit of the doubt here. He's pulling the right strings in so many areas, and Melvin is sorting through the bullpen mess the best he can. It's hard to pin much on him, although giving Daric Barton (.410 OPS in 57 ABs) too much playing time will no longer be a possibility for him (the erstwhile first baseman was sent down to Sacramento today). GRADE: A-
If we give equal weight to all five areas, the 2014 Oakland A's are grading out to a B+ right now as a whole, and that makes sense -- because they're a very good baseball team that may not yet be playing their best.
It's been too long since Oakland won an AL pennant, and since they last did in 1990, they've played in the AL Championship Series just twice, losing eight of ten games played at that level of the postseason. Everyone knows the A's have had their troubles with the opening round of the playoffs since the wild-card era began.
But if Oakland get improve the defense a little and the bullpen reliability a lot, this could be their year to add another flag to the O.co Coliseum tarps.