Home Run Derby After-Effects?
The last time there was a back-to-back Home Run Derby champion was ’98-’99 when Ken Griffey Jr. did it. Now he is joined by Yoenis Cespedes. After beating Todd Frazier to capture his second Home Run Derby championship in as many years, Cespedes will now have to turn his focus to the second half of his third full season in order to keep Oakland at the top of the AL West. Yet, the primary question that surrounds all Home Run Derby participants is: How will it affect a players swing and hence, their second half? Luckily for A’s fans, Cespedes is a second half guy. Over his career, he’s hit .290 after the All-Star Break compared to his .242 average in the first half.
I think the bigger concern is how will Josh Donaldson respond after his first Home Run Derby appearance.
Well, to be honest, I think that Donaldson needs all the help he can get and maybe him hitting some bombs in the Derby will give the guy some confidence. Early in the season, he was a clear-cut candidate for the MVP award, but after June 1st has hit just .174 and his average has dropped all the way to a meager .238. He obviously needs to break out of his prolonged rut and seeing as how he has had a “swing big, miss big” approach (similar to Cespedes) so far this season, I believe he can’t get much worse and the second half will bring positive results to the A’s struggling third baseman.
After Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin went down before the A’s even played one game, it automatically put a massive amount of pressure on the newest members of the starting rotation, especially to fill those innings. Parker threw 197 innings while Griffin broke the 200 innings mark without either missing a start due to injury, something that’s highly overlooked in baseball today. Now its up to newcomers to the rotation Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez as well as first-year Sonny Gray, all of whom who have not had to throw as many innings as they are now being asked to. Kazmir threw 158 innings last season for the Cleveland Indians after spending the previous year in independent ball. Chavez pitched 57.1 innings in 2013 for the A’s as a long reliever, while Sonny Gray combined for 185.1 innings in Triple A and the majors, by far his most in a professional season.
Each one of them are on pace this season to approach or pass the 200-inning mark, something only Kazmir previously has done (2007 season). So far, the trio’s combined 28-12 record and 2.77 ERA is a major reason for the A’s first-half success and it will be interesting to see how closely A’s manager Bob Melvin manages their workloads and pitch counts during the second half, particularly because the Angels are so close in the division race.
The Oakland Athletics finished their first half of the 2014 season with the MLB’s best record for the 25th day in a row, and they have sat atop the AL West every day and every night since April 28. Yet, in the back seat of the Oakland wagon are the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who have prevented them from running away with a 3rd consecutive division title. They won 19 of 23 games before the All-Star Break, and now trail the A’s by only 1.5 games to start the second half. While the Seattle Mariners also have put themselves in contention for a playoff berth, the frontrunners to win the AL West are most likely to be the ball clubs from opposite ends of California. They play each other 10 times over August and September and six of those games are at the O.Co Coliseum, providing a small advantage to the A’s. Especially considering each team is second (Oakland) and first (LA) in terms of best home records.
Everyday starting shortstop, Jed Lowrie was a key to the offense in 2013, batting .290 and often hitting third in the order. However, after a good start in April, he hit a combined .187 in May and June with only 13 extra-base hits. So far in July, he’s turned it around a bit, raising his average to a still depressing .239. Although this avg. bump included some weak “bloop” hits, those may be a sign of Lowrie’s first half tough luck starting to fade. His career average of balls in play is .291 while this season has been .267, a significant drop off. With Melvin’s “platoon system” in place over the last few seasons, his offense has typically been deep enough to mask individual struggles, but the A’s need Lowrie (one of the few everyday starters) to regain some of his 2013 form..
Having already adding Samardzija and Hammel, the A’s are probably not finished upgrading their roster before the Trade Deadline on July 31. A middle-infield improvement could be in the works, following a notably disappointing first half from second basemen Nick Punto and Eric Sogard, who hit .213 and .186, respectively. Oakland might also think about dipping into the shortstop market and move Lowrie to second-base, despite the second-baseman trade market being much deeper.