A’s close out their first half on high note

Olson continues homer binge; Mengden earns fourth victory

July 8th, 2019

SEATTLE -- The A’s ended the first half of the regular season following Sunday’s 7-3 win over the Mariners in a nearly identical spot to where they were at the All-Star break in their eventual 97-win 2018.

Oakland sits narrowly outside the postseason cutoff as the first team trailing the second American League Wild Card spot, just as it did at the break last season. Oakland has 50 wins through 91 games, one off its pace from a year ago, and the club is barely on the outside looking in, trailing the Indians for the second AL Wild Card spot by 1 1/2 games and the Rays for the top spot by two games.

Sound familiar?

“It does a little bit,” said first baseman . “Just kind of the flirting around .500 for the first couple months and then we're starting to pick it up now. Hopefully we get some rest here, rest up, come back and hit the ground running in the second half.”

A’s offensive statistics (franchise all-time ranks through the first half)

HR: 145 (1st)

Extra-base hits: 318 (1st)

Runs: 467 (4th)

OPS: .760 (11th)

Sunday was as reflective as any reason why the A’s have won 14 of their past 19 games. They chased Mariners opener Matt Carasiti before he could record his second out, turned over a 5-0 lead to starter , then built enough cushion -- albeit with a few close calls in the sixth -- for its ever-improving bullpen that culminated with Liam Hendriks picking up his fifth save in his new closer role.

And Oakland did it all with All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman taking a scheduled day off.

Olson crushed a 434-foot homer to right-center in his first at-bat, illuminating further that he appears to have fully recovered from right hand surgery on March 22 after hurting himself on a swing during the Japan Series. That’s particularly good news, given that hamate injuries are highly problematic for hitters upon return. He’s already hit 19 homers, tangible evidence that he hasn’t lost power, and he’s done so over his past 51 games, leading the Majors in that stretch.

“Worried isn't the right word. I was curious as to what it would be,” Olson said. “It's something that's out of my control, really, so I was just going to come back and see what it was. But once I fully started swinging, I didn't feel a difference.”

Khris Davis, however, is still experiencing the lingering effects from being hit by a 96.6-mph pitch from the Angels’ Luis Garcia on June 27, going 2-for-22 since, including an 0-for-4 day on Sunday.

“It's been a long first half and the days off, I feel like I could use them. It's pretty frustrating,” said Davis, who added that he’s still experiencing pain in his hand. “It's just kind of the nagging, swelling and I feel like I can’t get a lot of power.”

Davis, who led MLB with 133 homers between 2016-18, hasn’t homered since June 18 and has just six since April 14. Davis’ MLB-high 48 homers last season were a critical cog for an A’s offense that was a major catalyst in their surge up the AL standings. His 0-for-4 on Sunday lowered his OPS to .737, nearly 100 points less than in any of his three seasons in Oakland.

The club is encouraged about the effects of Davis resting his hand and side the next four days before it opens the second half on Friday against the White Sox. Davis also battled through a right hip injury after slamming into a PNC Park wall on May 5 while making a catch in foul territory.

Davis is one of many beleaguered A’s that weathered injury in the first half, but he’s at least been able to play through his issues. Left-hander Sean Manaea, their No. 1 starter last season, and Jharel Cotton are both beginning rehab assignments next week, both of whom would provide significant additions to the pitching staff.

Oakland's rotation has limited depth, but even without Manaea and Frankie Montas, who is serving an 80-game suspension and won’t be eligible for the postseason, Oakland starters have a 4.06 ERA, seventh best in MLB. Montas’ replacement, Mengden, pitched 5 1/3 innings of three-run ball on Sunday, leaving with a lead to advance to 4-1 in eight starts.

“I know a lot is not made of starters and their wins and loss records, but they certainly think it is and I do as well,” Melvin said. “When you come out of the game after the fifth inning with a lead, you've done your job. He's done that.”

The A’s most glaring hole in the lineup is at second base, which has been worth minus-0.3 Wins Above Replacement and 67 wRC+, fifth- and fourth-worst in MLB, respectively. They also could benefit from a bullpen arm if Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen, the game’s best setup-closer punch in 2018, don’t return to elite form.

It could be an active three-plus weeks ahead of the Trade Deadline, especially if Oakland continues its trajectory, which is runs eerily familiar to last season, when they went on to post the Majors’ best record in the second half.

“Our front office typically makes some adjustments when we’re in it,” Melvin said. “I think that’s one of the reasons that we do well in the second half is they start to make some of their subtle moves -- sometimes big, sometimes subtle -- but they always seem to be impactful.”