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Can the A’s bounce back from early struggles?

As you may recall, the Athletics emerged as one of baseball’s top teams last year to earn their fourth postseason appearance in the last seven years. Coming into June 16 with a 34-36 record, Oakland turned things around and shocked the baseball world by going 63-29 from there on and finishing 97-65, MLB’s fourth best record.

The A’s had topped even their highest expectations; a team that was projected to hover around the .500 mark and win 75-80 games. But, led by success from both veterans and young guys, the Athletics put together a terrific second half to take over the second Wild Card spot in the AL.

Despite dropping the Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium, which revealed how outmatched the budget-tight A’s were against high-payroll teams like the New York Yankees, Oakland and its fans still carried high expectations heading into 2019. While most weren’t expecting another 97-win campaign, the hopes were still high for the club’s second playoff appearance in a row. In the early part of this year though, those hopes may be starting to vanish.

The A’s have gotten off to a slow start this season, going 17-22 in their first 39 games. The starting pitching staff has struggled, as expected, but other elements of the team have had a rough start that wasn’t expected. Let’s take a look at what the rotation, bullpen, and offense have done so far this year.

Starting Rotation: The Oakland starting staff carries a winning record of 14-13, but has certainly had some issues. So far, A’s starters have collected a 4.54 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 4.80 FIP, and 1.43 HR/9. They’ve given up the seventh-highest rate of fly balls (39%), leading to the tenth-most home runs allowed despite a home ballpark that plays friendly to pitchers. Despite completing his second career no-hitter this week, Oakland’s Opening Day starter Mike Fiers has scuffled to a 5.48 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 4.96 FIP and 1.57 HR/9 through nine starts, while No. 2 starter Marco Estrada is on the injured list after posting a 6.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.46 FIP and 2.66 HR/9 in five outings. These numbers are clearly unimpressive, and even worse coming from the top two guys in the rotation.

The A’s rotation does have a bright spot however; hard-throwing right-hander Frankie Montas. He’s showing signs of a breakthrough so far this season, collecting a 2.75 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 3.60 FIP, 0.92 HR/9 and 8.01 K/9 in his first seven outings. It was unknown whether he’d be in the majors or minors to start the year, but after beginning the season in Oakland’s rotation, it doesn’t look like he’s leaving any time soon.

Brett Anderson, Aaron Brooks and Chris Bassitt are the other three starters currently in the rotation, but only one of them seems to have a sure spot moving forward. Anderson is that guy; the veteran southpaw has proven to be a quality arm when healthy, and owns a 4.19 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 3.88 FIP and 0.21 HR/9 through eight starts this season. Aaron Brooks’ time with the A’s seems to be narrowing down, given his struggles both this season and throughout his career. Many were surprised to see him make the Major League club, and the right-hander has struggled to a 5.74 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 5.83 FIP and 2.30 HR/9 in six starts. Chris Bassitt has done his job while filling in for Marco Estrada, posting a 2.55 ERA and 0.97 WHIP with 31 strikeouts in 24.2 IP. He’s pitched well over the past couple years when needed to fill in for a start or two at a time, but ultimately has yet to find consistent time in the majors.

The A’s have options, with right-hander Daniel Mengden expected to be brought up sometime soon. Mengden showed flashes of success last year in the big leagues, posting a 4.05 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 4.69 FIP over 22 games (17 starts) in 2018. Mengden struggled in the second half of the season, but the A’s will be hoping he can show flashes of what he accomplished to start 2018.

It’s also important to mention that the A’s have three left-handed pitchers currently injured but expected up in the majors this season; Sean Manaea, Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk. Manaea went 12-9 with a 3.59 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 4.26 FIP last year, along with throwing a no-hitter in April against the Red Sox. Luzardo and Puk are currently Oakland’s top-two prospects. Luzardo was shelved at the end of Spring due to shoulder inflammation, and Puk underwent Tommy John Surgery in Spring 2018. The A’s expect Luzardo to return to the minors this month, and Puk to return sometime after the All-Star break.

Bullpen: Many expected the starting rotation to struggle, but the bullpen was expected to be one of Oakland’s strongpoints again this season. It was one of baseball’s best in 2018, tallying a 3.37 ERA and 1.18 WHIP while leading the A’s to a remarkable 70-2 record when leading after seven innings. So far this season though, the ‘pen has seen its fair share of struggles. Through 39 games, Oakland relievers have gone 3-9 with a 4.15 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 3.65 FIP. A noticeable difference has been their inability to strand baserunners, posting a 72.1 LOB% this season after a 77.1% mark last year. Several A’s arms have experienced struggles in the early part of the year, which holds concern for how the rest of this season will play out.

Joakim Soria: 0-2, 5.19 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.61 FIP, 3.63 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9

Fernando Rodney: 0-2, 8.78 ERA, 1.95 WHIP, 4.04 FIP, 6.08 BB/9, 0.68 HR/9

Ryan Buchter: 0-1, 4.63 ERA, 2.06 WHIP, 4.33 FIP, 7.71 BB/9, 0.77 HR/9

J.B. Wendelken: 0-1, 5.57 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 3.18 FIP, 2.57 BB/9, 0.86 HR/9

As you can see, several A’s relievers have posted FIPs much lower than their ERAs. Despite a collected 4.15 ERA, the Oakland bullpen owns a 3.65 FIP; fifth best in baseball. This indicates that they’ve sometimes found themselves on the unlucky end, and haven’t given up too much hard contact, posting a 34.6% mark. Also, while some relievers have had severe struggles with walks, the A’s currently stand in the middle of the pack with a 3.90 BB/9.

After collectively struggling for over a month, we’ll see if Oakland relievers can turn things around in May and help get the A’s back on track. After playing a big role in the team’s success last year, they were expected to do so again this season, but so far that hasn’t been the case. Luckily, most of their arms have solid track records and have proven in the past to be reliable arms, and hopefully for the Athletics they can do so again in 2019.

Offense: The A’s had one of the best offenses in the big leagues last season, but have found themselves off to a slow start in this campaign. In 2018, Oakland tallied 227 HR (3rd most in MLB), 813 runs (4th), .187 ISO (3rd), .439 SLG (4th), .329 wOBA (5th), and 110 wRC+ (T-3rd). However, so far this season, they rank 15th in HR, 17th in runs, 22nd in ISO, 21st in SLG, 21st in wOBA, and 18th in wRC+. The decline in offensive production can partially be pointed to Matt Olson’s absence, but other hitters haven’t performed nearly as well as they did last year.

Stephen Piscotty: .248 AVG, 5 HR, 17 RBI, .310 wOBA, .157 ISO, 96 wRC+

Jurickson Profar: .188 AVG, 4 HR, 15 RBI, .249 wOBA, .141 ISO, 55 wRC+

Ramon Laureano: .233 AVG, 3 HR, 18 RBI, .273 wOBA, .098 ISO, 71 wRC+

Robbie Grossman: .202 AVG, 3 HR, 12 RBI, .288 wOBA, .128 ISO, 81 wRC+

All four of these guys had productive seasons at the plate last year, and were expected to do so again this year. While the A’s offense will see a boost with Matt Olson’s return, they’ll also need more production from these everyday players if they want to get back to the offense they were in 2018.

With both pitching and offensive struggles, the Athletics sit five games under .500 through the season’s first 39 contests. While some scuffling was expected due to a makeshift pitching rotation, the offensive and bullpen struggles were certainly unexpected. Oakland is off to a similar start to this season as the last, as earlier mentioned, where they tallied a 34-36 record through their first 70 games. However, after what they did in the second half of last year, it’s not out of the question that the A’s will break out and go on a hot stretch again in 2019.

Photo Source: Getty Images

Statistics as of May 10, 2019

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Austin Paull

Austin Paull is a 17-year-old writer from Sonoma County, California. Austin loves baseball and the Oakland A’s, and is also a published author. In June 2017, his first book “Comeback Cody” was released and is currently available in various online stores, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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