cespedes getty

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

9 Comments

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.”

Josh Johnson retires from baseball

PEORIA, AZ - FEBRUARY 21: Josh Johnson #55 of the San Diego Padres poses during Picture Day on February 21, 2014 at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
2 Comments

Oft-injured pitcher Josh Johnson is retiring from baseball, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick is reporting.

Johnson, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013. The right-hander underwent his third Tommy John surgery in September 2015 but wasn’t able to bounce back.

Johnson spent most of his career with the Marlins, but also pitched for the Blue Jays in the big leagues, as well as the Padres in the minors. He retires with a career 3.40 ERA, 915 strikeouts across 998 innings in the majors, and two All-Star nominations. Johnson led the National League with a 2.30 ERA in 2010, finishing fifth in NL Cy Young Award balloting. One wonders what he could have accomplished if he was able to stay healthy.

Report: Angels close to a multi-year deal with Luis Valbuena

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 08:  Luis Valbuena #18 of the Houston Astros hits a three run walkoff home run in the ninth inning to defeat the Oakland Athletics 10-9 at Minute Maid Park on July 8, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Angels are nearing a multi-year deal with free agent third baseman Luis Valbuena, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. It’s believed to be a two-year contract with a third-year option.

Valbuena, 31, hit .260/.357/.459 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI in 342 plate appearances in 2016. He missed most of the second half with a hamstring injury, for which he underwent surgery in late August.

Valbuena has played a majority of his career at third base, but also has extensive experience at second base and has racked up innings at first base and shortstop as well. He won’t play every day for the Angels, as Yunel Escobar lays claim to third base and C.J. Cron first base, but he will give them flexibility and a left-handed bat off the bench.