A's youth looks to keep developing after break
Oakland's second-half surge depends on Carter, Cespedes, Norris
OAKLAND -- After making plenty of noise by trading away a trio of All-Stars during the offseason, the A's have quietly found surprising success without them.
The departures of Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey, along with Josh Willingham, had nearly all of the baseball pundits writing off Billy Beane's A's. Yet the seemingly dismantled club, rebuilt mainly on youth, broke away from the first half sitting comfy at the .500 mark, after finishing below it in each of the previous three seasons.
An even record is no milestone, as manager Bob Melvin is quick to note. But his club's ability to enter the break in the realm of relevancy -- Oakland is currently in contention for the newly-created second Wild Card spot -- is surely deserving of attention.
"I think we're just going out every time and persevering," second baseman Jemile Weeks said. "We're playing good defense, our pitchers have been shutting teams down the best they can. We're just not giving in until the last out at the plate."
Easier said than done, but the A's have, in fact, triumphed in the final outs, as evidenced by their eight walk-off wins this season -- including Sunday's 2-1 13th-inning victory over Seattle to cap off the first half -- after recording just three all of last year.
Overall, the club won 21 of its final 34 games after compiling a season-high nine-game losing streak, despite playing 11 one-run games in its last 17, and Oakland currently stands in third place, 8 1/2 games behind division-leading Texas and five behind the second-place Angels.
"We're mentally tougher, much more solid as a group than last year," starter Brandon McCarthy said. "There's a belief in the team right now, and keeping that up over the course of the season is going to be important."
Though McCarthy has been around for all of just 12 starts because of lingering shoulder issues, and fellow veteran Bartolo Colon missed time with an oblique strain, Oakland's starting pitching staff -- led by rookie starters and trade goods Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone -- still managed to post an American League-best 3.67 ERA. Its bullpen, captained by All-Star rookie Ryan Cook, did its part, too, as Oakland's pitchers compiled a 3.38 mark, also good for first in the AL.
|MVP: Josh Reddick
Reddick's consistent bat from the third spot produced 20 home runs and 43 RBIs in the first half.
|Cy Young: Jarrod Parker
Parker was the first starter since 1917 to open his career allowing no more than one run in 10 of his first 14 starts.
Parker's 2.68 ERA ranked second among all AL rookies with at least 10 starts.
|Top reliever: Ryan Cook
Cook allowed runs on just two occasions in 37 appearances, en route to earning an All-Star nod.
Josh Reddick, acquired in the Bailey deal, was responsible for bringing in 43 of them and proved to be the most consistent of Oakland's hitters, becoming the first A's player to tally 20 home runs before the break since Nick Swisher also hit 20 in 2006.
Elsewhere in the lineup, Yoenis Cespedes proved to be as advertised, hitting .263 with nine home runs, but he struggled to stay on the field, enduring a handful of injuries that often left the A's with a big hole to fill in the middle of the lineup.
Oakland tried out a mixed array around that spot, with the corner infield positions reflecting something of a revolving door for the first two months. Recently, Brandon Inge -- signed as a free agent after Detroit released him at the end of April -- has found a home at third base, and the slugging duo of Brandon Moss and Chris Carter have turned first base into a platoon, following failed experiments with Daric Barton and Kila Ka'aihue.
Players to watch in second half
Cespedes' power gives the A's a true offensive threat, but can he stay healthy in the second half?
Long considered to be the A's top prospect, Carter finally appears to be showing off his true potential since being called up.
Norris' production will determine the fate of the struggling Kurt Suzuki.
The offense, which ranks last in the Majors in average, will have to showcase consistency in the second half to help a pitching staff that won't forever be able to carry such a heavy load.
"We expect to play better," Melvin said. "It's been a bit of a tumultuous first half. We got through a nine-game losing streak and we're better for that at the end. We played a lot of dramatic games, whether it's walk-off wins or losses. We've had a lot of turnover in and out as a team. We're settling on a group in the second half and starting to get a little bit of an identity. I think the goal for the second half is to play better than the first half."