The Oakland Athletics 2011 season has seen numerous storylines develop over the first 92 games. The storylines have been a mix of good, bad and indifferent. However, the A's 2011 mid-season review can be easily summed up:
1. Great starting pitching in spite of injuries;
2. Jemile Weeks emerging as the most energetic A's player in years;
3. Bob Geren fired, Bob Melvin hired, the standings don't get any better;
4. Bud Selig and MLB sit and twiddle their thumbs as the A's float along without a future.
The stadium in number four is what it is at this point. Bud Selig is kicking this issue to the curb and would appear content to have the next commissioner deal with it. Off the field the A's are a rudderless ship with no direction and no apparent final destination other than unlikely in Oakland, no way in Fremont, and a big Giants hell no in San Jose.
On the field? To say the 2011 season has not gone according to plan for the A's is a mix of spot-on correct and misnomer. The season has been one filled with drama and changes, and a lack of consistently solid offensive talent has sent the team plummeting to the cellar, 12 games back of first with 70 games remaining.
The basic A's plan heading into 2011 was to ride strong starting pitching, a dominant bullpen, and just enough offense to battle for the AL West crown. The plan has actually come close to fruition, if not for the epically bad offense.
As is par for the course, the A's were not able to add high priced talent. However, they were able to make some moves that should have improved a variety of areas throughout the roster.
They appeared to dramatically improve an already strong bullpen with the addition of setup men Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour. On offense they acquired David DeJesus and Josh Willingham via trade. Additionally, they signed Hideki Matsui away from the Los Angeles Angels to fill in the designated hitter role. Matsui was a splash in that he remains a fairly big name, but none of the guys was looked as a 40 home run type of power bat, or a monster average guy. Rather, it was an addition of three batters that would allow the A's to move guys like Kurt Suzuki, Daric Barton, and Mark Ellis into better roles in the batting order.
Over the course of the first half of the 2011 MLB season, a few things have become perfectly clear to the A's and to the fans. First and foremost the pitching has been as good as advertised in spite of having used 10 starters thus far. Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez are the only pitchers thus far (knock on wood) to not get hurt since Opening Day, with Gonzalez getting the All Star nod for the team. Since the beginning of the season, the A's have lost Dallas Braden for the season, Brett Anderson for at least four to six weeks, and then Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross for extended stretches. The one upside to the injuries has been the chance to see guys like Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman get a chance to shine. Both have since been sent back to Sacramento, but Moscoso is expected back with the rotation after the All Star Break.
Alongside the rock solid starting pitching has been a strong but occasionally inconsistent bullpen. The bullpen leads the American League in ERA but they have had the occasional meltdown. The primary culprit in these meltdowns has been Brian Fuentes. When Andrew Bailey had to start the season on the disabled list, Fuentes took over as closer. He had his ups and downs but was securing saves for the team. However, in his current set-up role he's been able to find much consistency. It hasn't killed the A's, but it's made life a lot more difficult for a team already facing a slim margin of error.
Which brings us to the offense. The A's pitching has been downright dominant at times, but in spite of this the offense has created one of the slimmest margins for error in baseball. The A's are the third lowest scoring team and they've struggled immensely when it comes to getting the key hits with runners in scoring position. The offense will have modest stretches in which it looks like the offense is coming together. Then they'll go 20+ innings without scoring a run.
While the Giants have managed to claim a division lead with hitting that's not all that much better, the difference seems to be in the timing for each team. The A's and Giants are not that dramatically different but somehow, someway the Giants find the timely hit. While The Giants hitters appear on their face to step up when the pitching struggles, the A's offense seems to start to pick up but generally fall short. The number of stomach-punch games the A's have gone through has reached ridiculous levels.
And now they head into the second half of the 2011 season with the emergence of rookie Jemile Weeks as one of the few offensive highlights of the first half. While the team has flailed away, Weeks has provided a bit of a spark since his call-up in June. He was impressive enough that the A's dealt away team leader Mark Ellis shortly after his return from the DL. Weeks has struggled a bit lately and come back to earth somewhat, but he is still one of the few highlights for the A's.
As Oakland heads into the second half of the 2011 season, they have to be wondering what direction they're headed. At twelve games back, the safe bet would be that they're a seller at the trade deadline. They've got numerous veterans that can provide something off the bench to a contender, but are struggling in starting roles for the A's.
Josh Willingham has been one of their biggest offensive contributors and he's a guy hitting .241 with 11 home runs. He'd provide spark to a contender, but really doesn't do enough for a struggling A's team. Brian Fuentes is a veteran who could provide a decent set-up arm for a contender. With the Brewers making the first big move in acquiring Francisco Rodriguez, the hunt will be on for quality bullpen arms. A's fans may not think he's a quality arm this year, but there is a major league team that will be willing to pony up a low-level prospect to add Fuentes.
If the A's do officially become sellers, the second half could actually become a bit more interesting for fans as the team would seem set to start looking at the young talent in Triple-A and Double-A. There are plenty of question marks surrounding the likes of Chris Carter, Michael Taylor, Adrian Cardenas and plenty others. However, when the team appears to be going nowhere, what do they really have to lose?