Will the second half bring more of the same for the MLB-leading A’s?

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The A’s reached the halfway mark of their season Sunday, and it’s tough to find too much fault with what took place over the first 81 games.

They lead the majors with a 51-30 record after a 4-3 victory over the Miami Marlins that capped a three-game sweep for Oakland. The A’s also find themselves at or near the top of the big leagues in many significant statistical categories. But what’s that sports cliché about the danger of reading your own press clippings?

Perhaps the A’s biggest second-half challenge will be not to lose the competitive edge that got them to this point in the first place. If they need motivation, they need only look at the teams chasing them in the American League West standings.

The Los Angeles Angels trail Oakland by 5½ games for first, but they’re playing good baseball and have climbed to 10 games above .500. One spot back, the Seattle Mariners are 44-38. And both clubs surely will be looking to bolster their rosters as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches.

The A’s don’t show signs of a team that’s on the verge of a nose-dive, but even so, it’s probably a healthy thing that they’ve got a couple teams in their rear-view mirror that appear to pose a threat.

“We’ve been playing tremendous baseball,” starting pitcher Tommy Milone said. “Obviously that’s what we expect of ourselves. The goal now is just to keep it up. We can’t get soft. We’ve gotta continue to play good baseball. It’s not gonna be hard for us. We’re gonna go out and battle.”

Sunday’s victory at Marlins Ballpark exemplified a lot of what’s gone right for the A’s. They entered the season wondering if they could make up for season-ending injuries to starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. To this point, the rotation has answered the bell, despite some shaky outings over the past week-and-a-half.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Milone, Freiman help A’s edge out Marlins]

Milone, one of the pitchers who entered the rotation when Parker and Griffin went down in spring training, came through Sunday on an afternoon when the A’s had just three relievers rested and ready.

He delivered seven sharp innings, allowing just four hits and three runs (two earned), and he added some fine defensive work to aid his cause. Milone is 6-3 with a respectable 3.79 ERA, a solid contributor at the back of a rotation that’s had its depth sternly tested. The A’s 3.16 overall ERA is second in the majors to Washington’s 3.07.

Jim Johnson’s first-half struggles threw a wrench in the bullpen plans, but the A’s have improvised in that department too. Sean Doolittle is proving to be a very reliable closer, and with Doolittle unavailable Sunday, Ryan Cook notched his first save of the season. One thing to watch from this point forward is whether Cook works his way back into a prominent late-inning role after injuries set him back in the first half. Can Johnson be a contributing factor, or might the A’s swing a trade if they find a taker?

[RELATED: Francis hero on not-so-perfect day for A’s]

First baseman Nate Freiman, who took a redeye flight Sunday morning to join the A’s from Triple-A when Josh Reddick joined the disabled list, hit a three-run homer to sink the Marlins and clinch a sweep. Oakland has proven there’s safety in roster numbers. Is there another major league team that effectively utilizes so many different players, including those who might be lingering in the minors?

Josh Donaldson (61 RBI), Brandon Moss (59) and Yoenis Cespedes (55) headline the offense, but Derek Norris has emerged as a solid run producer, leadoff Coco Crisp has enjoyed some big moments and John Jaso and Stephen Vogt have also come through while splitting catching duties with Norris.

[REWIND: Cespedes delivers in front of ‘home’ crowd]

One player the A’s could use a stronger second half from is shortstop Jed Lowrie, who is hitting .217 after being one of the A’s top hitters in 2013.

But Oakland has scored a major-league high 418 runs, and if the final 81 games play out similar to the first 81, the A’s will be in fine shape as they take aim at finally advancing past the American League Division Series.

“It’s certainly a good first half,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We seem to have gotten a little stronger here. We seem to have gotten some of the bullpen roles ironed out and we’re better for it. But it’s only the halfway point.”

Dustin Pedroia leaves game with a sprained left wrist

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Bad news for the Red Sox today. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia was involved in a collision at first base with Jose Abreu of the White Sox. Pedroia stayed in the game at the time but was replaced by Josh Rutledge in the second.

The injury: sprained left wrist. Which, no, is not good, but there was some initial concern that he may have aggravated the knee which has been bothering him of late. They’ll no doubt provide an update after the game. As of now, the Sox lead the Sox 1-0 in the bottom of the third.

 

Brad Ausmus is not a fan of the Tigers’ schedule

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Everyone in baseball has a tough schedule. The season is a grind. Some teams, however, due to weather and happenstance, have stretches which are a tougher grind than others. The Tigers are in one of those right now.

Detroit played the Astros on Thursday night, and lost in a three-hour and thirty minute contest. It was a getaway day, er, night, and they didn’t get to Chicago to face the White Sox until the wee wee hours of the morning on Friday. Waiting for them: a double header which was to start at 4pm. The first game of it was rained out, though, so they woke up after a short “night’s sleep for nothing. Then the nightcap was delayed over an hour, giving them another late bedtime. On Saturday it was another double header, so it was another early wakeup and another long day at the park. And, of course, another day game on Sunday, before a flight to Kansas City.

This stretch has made Brad Ausmus grumpy. Here he was after Friday night’s late finish:

“Give some credit to the White Sox pitchers, give some credit to the schedule we have. We’ll try to get about 5 hours of sleep and come back tomorrow and play two more.”

He was particularly miffed at the scheduling of two doubleheaders in a row:

“You can’t control the weather but I think it would have been prudent to play the second game tomorrow in August,” he said. “That would have made a lot more sense to me.”

Ausmus did note, however, that it’s not the White Sox’ job to make a schedule that is convenient for their division rivals.

You can look at this in a few different ways. One one level, Ausmus is understandably upset about a particularly arduous stretch of games. On another level he’s probably trying to protect his players, who have looked flat, by changing the subject from their play to the schedule. On a different level, you could say that he’s making excuses for a team that is underachieving. And, of course, those three things are not mutually exclusive.

The thing is, though, that the Tigers have lost seven of ten, are five out of first place, four games under .500 and could conceivably leave their series with the Royals this week in dead last in the Central. Ultimately, extenuating circumstances like the weather and an unfortunate schedule don’t save a manager whose talented and highly-paid team struggles like the Tigers have. If they don’t turn it around soon, Ausmus could be hitting the bricks and the Tigers could be fixing to sell off and rebuild.