From the get-go, 2015 A's didn't get going
Slew of injuries, bullpen woes follow roster overhaul, and team never recovered
OAKLAND -- The lingering heartache A's fans carried with them from the 2014 American League Wild Card Game loss to the Royals had hardly subsided when the club christened a new spring season with a roster that didn't include winter tradees Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Jeff Samardzija and Derek Norris.
The tempestuous rollercoaster ride had only just begun, though. Spring brought about feelings of cautious optimism, weighed by varying factors. The A's boasted enviable depth in their rotation and bullpen and believed they'd made up for lost power in adding the likes of Billy Butler and Ike Davis. But they also had plenty of unknown talent on their hands, stemming from offseason wheeling and dealing, and already had health questions -- starting with Sean Doolittle, shelved with a shoulder strain.
Coco Crisp (elbow) soon joined him on the disabled list and, less than a month into the season, so did new acquisition Ben Zobrist, who missed a month of play after undergoing left knee surgery. The A's finished April at 9-14 -- five of those losses being of the one-run variety, which proved to be their specialty. The club would drop an Oakland record 35 one-run games in total, largely due to bullpen and defensive malfunctions.
A feast-or-famine offense couldn't carry them, and by the end of May, the A's sat 12 games out of first place, a fourth consecutive postseason appearance seemingly improbable. June (15-12) was their only winning month of the season and also featured the big league debut of Pat Venditte, who became the first full-time switch-pitcher in the modern era of Major League Baseball with two scoreless innings of relief at Fenway Park on June 5.
Such bright spots were far and few between in 2015. Battery mates Sonny Gray and Stephen Vogt kept each other company at their first All-Star Game, but the ensuing weeks brought about a series of trades that effectively squashed any remaining chance of competing in 2015.
More injuries -- Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman and Jesse Chavez all joined the DL -- only added salt to the wound, and the A's could barely patch together a rotation in the final weeks, finishing with the American League's worst record. They needed a franchise-record 30 pitchers -- among them Barry Zito, who squared off in a memorable Big Three showdown with Tim Hudson at the Coliseum on Sept. 26 -- to get through the season, employing 52 players overall.
It remains to be seen how many of them return in 2016, but another roster overhaul could be on the horizon for a club that highly underachieved.
Record: 68-94, fifth place, AL West
Defining moment: Entering July 23 a distant 11 games back of first place, the A's waved the white flag and dealt their biggest asset, sending lefty Scott Kazmir to the Astros for a pair of prospects -- setting up a stream of ensuing moves that ended with the departures of the ultra-versatile Zobrist and reliever Tyler Clippard, signaling the organization's shift in focus on the future.
What went right: Seemingly little. But that shouldn't overshadow the handful of noteworthy performances, starting with the club's ace. Gray was absolutely dominant for the majority of the season, joining Vogt as first-time All-Stars in Cincinnati and giving fans something to look forward to every fifth day. Rookies Billy Burns and Mark Canha were bright spots, too, as was the September emergence of reliever Ryan Dull. Josh Reddick enjoyed a bounceback season, and midseason pickup Danny Valencia used his bat to lift up a club that had just been jolted by the many Trade Deadline moves.
What went wrong: Bullpen woes, defensive mishaps and a slew of injuries, along with an inconsistent offense that got minimal production from Butler, signed to a three-year, $30 million deal in November. The club's late-inning meltdowns became routine by the end of the first month of play and continued throughout the majority of the season -- particularly during a lengthy period without Doolittle, who missed several months with two separate shoulder injuries. The A's had at least six players on the disabled list at any given time, and four of the club's regular starters ended the season injured: Gray (hip), Graveman (oblique), Hahn (forearm) and Chavez (rib fracture). Chris Bassitt also missed time with shoulder soreness, and Jarrod Parker (elbow) and A.J. Griffin (shoulder) never pitched a game in green and gold.
Biggest surprise: The production Burns gave the A's wasn't only a surprise but much needed during another injury-maligned season for Crisp. Burns' play in center field was outstanding, as he dazzled with highlight-reel catches, and his bat could hardly be contained from the leadoff spot. The speedster excelled on the bases, too, often providing the A's the type of spark that was otherwise elusive much of the year. Burns' ability to take advantage of his opportunity catapulted him into the AL Rookie of the Year conversation, albeit more quietly than the likes of Houston's Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor of the Indians.
Hitter of the Year: Reddick. The right fielder, enjoying his first full healthy season since 2012, not only led the team in home runs and RBIs but noticeably matured as a hitter along the way, becoming more selective at the plate and whiffing at the lowest rate of his career. Vogt wasn't far behind, though, as he reached career bests in all offensive categories during an All-Star campaign.
Pitcher of the Year: Gray. Oakland's ace led the AL in ERA for much of the season despite enduring some struggles down the stretch, particularly in an uncharacteristically woeful September in which he was scratched from his final start because of hip soreness. Any other month, though, it was Gray who was reliable and consistent in his ways, earning a trip to the All-Star game and a place in the AL Cy Young discussion.
Rookie of the Year: Burns deserves this nod for all of the aforementioned reasons, but there's also a case to be made for Canha, who made everyone forget about his Rule 5 status by quietly leading the way among AL rookies in RBIs. The power-hitting Canha, who proved versatile in the outfield and infield, got off to a hot start in green and gold, slowed down quickly thereafter -- in part because of illness -- before exploding in the second half from the No. 2 spot behind Burns and finishing among the top five among AL rookies in home runs, doubles, extra-base hits, runs and total bases.