Jul 15, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; American League outfielderYoenis Cespedes
(52) and teammateBrandon Moss
(37) of the Oakland Athletics before the 2014 MLB All Star Game at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
In the first half of the season, the Oakland Athletics played well enough to earn the best record in baseball. With 67 games left to play, the A’s are firmly planted in the playoff picture, holding a 10.5 game lead over the Royals for the final playoff spot. A playoff berth is not guaranteed by any means, but the Athletics have put themselves in a good position moving forward. That being said, the Athletics came back from a similar deficit in 2012, and there was also a team this season in the NL West that was kind enough to show us how quickly a large lead could be lost.
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The Athletics’ second half success is dependent on 3 key factors.
This could be said for all teams in contention, but the Athletics have been fairly lucky in this season of injuries across the league. By lucky, I mean they’re not the Rangers. An injury to a key contributor would make the task of not only making the playoffs, but also advancing, even harder. The A’s are a solidly-built team, and most positions are interchangeable. If one of the A’s All-Stars, or a speedy center fielder went down, the impact would be felt a lot more. I am being purposefully vague on the names, so that I don’t jinx anyone. Knock on wood.
The Athletics’ staff has been fantastic as a whole this season, and with the additions of Jeff Samrdzija and Jason Hammel, they figure to be even better. That being said, the bullpen, especially the late-inning guys in Sean Doolittle and Luke Gregerson, needs to continue to perform at a high level. If one of them begins to falter, the ‘pen could be thrown into the disarray that plagued the team earlier in the season.
The Athletics’ second half also depends on the starters continuing the torrid pace they’re on. There are question marks heading in to the latter half about the durability of Sonny Gray and Jesse Chavez. This is Gray’s first full season in the show, and Chavez is setting a new career record in innings pitched each time he records an out. Scott Kazmir also has some durability question marks, because he is bound to throw more innings than he has since 2007. Since throwing 206 2/3 innings in ’07, Kazmir’s highest total was 158 last season. His current tally is 117 1/3 innings this season.
The Athletics have scored the second-most runs in baseball behind just the Angels, the team that is chasing them. Their offense has been a big part of their success, with key contributors Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson getting most of the recognition with their RBI totals. Coco Crisp sets the table for those guys, and Stephen Vogt has played fantastically in every role he’s been thrust in to.
Donaldson and Cespedes have been struggling as of late. While these types of struggles are typical for any player of the course of a baseball season, it would be beneficial for their bats to heat up later in the season, so that they are clicking on all cylinders for a potential playoff push.