After this weekend’s tough three-game sweep by the Kansas City Royals, some A’s fans may be thinking that Oakland will not be able to get back into the playoff race because they can’t compete with good teams. Yes, they were a bit exposed by an experienced group with the best record in the American League, taking advantage of every little mistake.
Game One: Ike Davis’ throwing error in the third inning cost Oakland two runs
Game Two: Unable to score with two runners on and no outs in the eighth inning
Game Three: Max Muncy overthrew Stephen Vogt on a play at the plate in the third inning, allowing a run to score and essentially giftwrapping two more.
While the mistakes in Game Two were more collective than the others, all three of these very may well have been the difference between a Green and Gold sweep instead of a Royal Blue one. However, just being a couple of plays away – three days in a row – to defeating the defending American League champions is also a sign that Oakland can hang with the best of them.
However the real problem, as the Athletics approach the end of June, is they just haven’t been able to hang with the worst of them.
Oakland is 5-14 against teams below .500, second worst in the majors. If you discount the recent 3-1 interleague series against the San Diego Padres, it gets even uglier. Here are the A’s head-to-head splits against the Boston Red Sox (35-43), Chicago White Sox (32-42), and Seattle Mariners (34-42):
|TEAM||W||L||RS||RA||WP (According to Baseball-Reference.com)|
These are the games that should make your heart sink, (especially the L’s to a Mariners team who Oakland has outscored) not the close losses to ‘top-tier’ ball clubs. In fact, the Athletics are 29-30 against teams over .500, which is above the MLB average and a better mark than 40-win squads such as the Pittsburg Pirates (13-17) or the Los Angeles Dodgers (8-19).
You may have also noticed that both of these playoff-caliber clubs haven’t played nearly as many games against .500+ teams as the green and gold have. Well, that’s because no one has – the closest team being the New York Yankees (30-26). This means the A’s schedule through the first half of the season was extremely frontloaded and thus, will likely normalize to lesser competition in the second half.
However, in order take advantage in the hopes of a late playoff push, Oakland MUST reverse their poor play against the bottom feeders.
It’s go hard or go home the rest of the way.
Back in 1965, to put it plainly, the Kansas City Athletics sucked. They finished the year with a 59-103 record, dead last in the American League. Then-GM Charlie O. Finley, a man committed to winning at all costs (a quality lost by recent green and gold ownership) was open to anything that would deliver a W. His philosophy led to a variety of ‘lucky charms,’ which for the previous four years had been a group of grazing sheep that stood out beyond the right field fence. According to the Cumberland (MD) Evening Times, Finley had thought, “The sheep would bring me luck. But they ain’t.”
So he brought in a mule.
His name would be Charlie O. and he was donated by the State of Missouri. Governor Warren E. Hearnes said, “I’d consider it an honor and a privilege for Missouri to donate this mule to the A’s.”
Couple of cool side notes:
- The mule was reportedly born in Kansas to parents not of the same species.
- Documentation of his birth was not available.
- He was said to be three years old, while standing a little over 5-feet tall and weighing 1492 pounds.
So it was decided. Charlie O. would become a part of the team. In fact, Finley said on Feb. 8, 1965. “Charlie O. will come out of the A’s dugout on Opening Day, even if it takes the whole ball club to push him out. We will take Charlie O. with us on one trip to each of the nine cities in the American League – somehow.” Finley continued on about his newest addition stating the mule would receive, “a real good blanket with his name in green letters trimmed in white.” Finley, himself, panned to ride the mule on Opening Day out onto the field. Even for a brief period in the 1965 season, some Athletic relief pitchers rode him from the bullpen to the mound.
Finley made sure to take great care of his mule, even to the point where he would never let him get lonely. The Washington Post’s Shirley Povich noted that Finley signed “a cageful of monkeys, a prized bird dog, a hutch of outsided checker rabbits and two peacocks.” It was in stories like this that Charlie O. performed admirably, turning many heads onto his enjoyable self and away from the A’s struggles. Over the Athletics 13-year tenure in Kansas City, they never finished first in the AL.
Oakland’s attraction was welcomed in whichever city he ventured to, with his trip to New York drawing the biggest buzz. Charlie O., ridden by Finley, began the trip welcomed at the Americana Hotel by an eight-piece band. The New York Times accounts indicated that “Charlie O. clopped through the lobby, past startled guests and turned into a restaurant. There he paused at the bar long enough to consume a heaping portion of oats in a silver bowl. In his suite (okay it was a corner of the garage), Charlie O. also found a dresser in which to store his green and gold attire.” Being the focal point of the road trip, reporters just had to have them some of the mule. Ross Newhan of the Independent Press Telegram wrote, “Charlie O. is the hottest thing to hit the (American league) circuit since Mickey Mantle, and he has sounder legs. Charlie’s van is equipped with a stereo unit, but Charles has a one track mind when it comes to music. His selection is always the same: ‘Mule Train.’” Newhan observed that the mule’s ‘hotel room’ consisted of green and gold drapes, a desk featuring Finley’s picture, a TV set, and white-gloved attendants serving oats on silver trays.”
One of the more comical Charlie O. stories involved catcher Doc Edwards, who on occasion, was given the burdensome task of riding the big fella. While the team was on the road in Cleveland, Edwards fell off Charlie O. and was immediately traded to the Yankees. On another road trip in May of 1965, the White Sox GM Ed Short refused to allow Charlie O. inside the White Sox ballpark because he said, “we don’t issue passes to mules.” Finley responded by parading his mule around a leased parking lot across the street from White Sox Park and hired six models to hoist picket signs, accompanied by a six-piece band.
Four years later, the A’s along with their mule moved to Oakland and reversed their fortunes…
Praise Charlie O.
Chass, Murray. “Finley’s Follies Boasts Mule, Pigeons, Pheasants.” The New York Times, April 13, 1965.
Newhan, Ross. “Charlie O . . . A Mule, No Fool”, Independent Press Telegram (Long Beach, CA), May 2, 1965. D-2
Povich, Shirley. “Zoo in KC”, The Washington Post, March 30, 1965.
Jim Van Valkenburg. “Mule Replaces Sheep in Kansas City’s Park.” Cumberland (MD) Evening Times, February 9, 1965, 14.
Swanson, Don. “Kansas City Fans to Get New Kick.” Phoenix (Arizona) Gazette, March 26, 1965, 50.
This is the question circulating around the office of GM Billy Beane and is likely what nearly every call coming to Oakland’s “Gepetto” revolves around. With the former All-Star posting a 2.70 ERA in over 83 innings of work with 79 strikeouts, he is one of the most sought after starting pitchers for contenders this season. A part from Cole Hamels, (whose services have been swirling around trade circles for months now) Kazmir is really the only other solid left-handed starter in the trade market.
Not to say Kazmir is of Cole Hamels star-caliber, or even that he’s been a better pitcher, but as of right now one could make a legitimate argument that Oakland’s lefty is more valuable. The primary reason is because of his upcoming contract situation. Although he is going to become a free agent at the end of this season, he will likely cost less than the $23.5 million that Hamels is currently earning. The argument for why Hamels is a more valuable trade asset is because he’s under control for the next three years with a team option for a fourth, and more importantly, he has little history of injury. So as far as Scott’s future in Oakland, unless there is an overwhelming offer that comes out of left field for the southpaw’s services, I think it would be wise of Billy Beane not to trade Kazmir.
Now I’ve read a couple of articles about the reasons for trading Kazmir and I get it. With his past-injuries and second-half struggles last season, one could be concerned with his production falling off. Here were his 2014 splits:
1st half: 2.38 ERA, 4.0 K/BB, 6+ ip/g (in 19 starts)
2nd half: 5.42 ERA, 2.4 K/BB, 5.2 ip/g (in 13 starts)
However, having now finally pitched a full season since returning to the bigs in 2013, I believe he will be able to his put inconsistent past behind him. From what I’ve read, he specifically used this past offseason to build up his arm strength in order to pitch effectively deep into the summer. If that’s the case, the A’s will be in a situation to maintain a top-tier starting rotation that currently is tied for the best starting pitching ERA in the American League.
Also, Oakland can offer Kazmir a qualifying offer at the end of the year.
A qualifying offer enables teams to become eligible for draft pick compensation if a free agent leaves for free agency. The value of the qualifying offer changes from year to year and is determined by averaging the top 125 player salaries from the previous season. Much like a franchise tag in football, teams only extend these offers to top players. The return if the player rejects the offers, is one compensatory selection at the end of the first round of the MLB draft.
So in the case of Scott Kazmir, I would suggest keeping him through the end of the season so that his free agency situation becomes a win-win for the A’s. Based off of recent trends, the value of the qualifying offer for the 2016 offseason will be a little over $16 million. While this may seem like a ton of money for a frugal (that’s an overly nice way to put it) franchise, Kazmir is currently making $13 million, so it isn’t that much of a pay raise. So if he signs, Oakland gets another year of quality left-handed pitching and if he chooses to decline the offer – to pursue a more lucrative contract – then the A’s will receive, essentially, another 1st Round Pick. Plus, it gives the currently streaking 2015 squad more of an opportunity to compete and hopefully scrap their way into the playoff race.
Either way, the green and gold come out on top.
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.