Despite having Major League Baseball’s best record and the most wins (59) at the All-Star break since the 2006 Tigers, the Oakland A’s only enjoy a tight 1.5 game lead over the Anaheim Angels, leaving no room for error for the ball club in the second half.
There are three key factors in the Oakland A’s holding off the Angels in the second half to claim their third divisional title in as many years.
First is the offense. While Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes will get the most credit for the A’s offensive success and deservedly so, Stephen Vogt just may have been the offensive MVP in the first half. Vogt was hitting .358 with a OBP of .446 going into the All-Star break. It didn’t seem to matter whether Vogt was playing first base, left field, right field or catcher, he just kept hitting.
Vogt’s success since being called up on June 1 provided the A’s offense with another level of depth, serving as a compliment to the power trio of Donaldson, Cespedes and Moss. In fact, the impact of Donaldson’s and Cespedes’ pre-All-Star break struggles were lessened by Vogt’s performance. Whether Vogt can continue his pace into the second half will be a key factor in the A’s holding off the Angels down the stretch.
Next is the starting rotation. Sonny Gray has nearly doubled his previous high total of 64 innings pitched in 2013, recording over 125 innings for the club in 2014. As a result, fatigue could be a major factor effecting Gray in the second half of the season. The 24-year-old has post season experience to build on but it’s just a question of whether he will he have the gas to make it there.
The addition of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel will allow manager Bob Melvin to better manage Gray’s potential fatigue in the second half. Bottom line, the A’s need a productive Sonny Gray as their third starter in order to win the AL West again in 2014.
Finally is the bullpen. The A’s have one of the deepest and most versatile bullpens in the league and without a second half performance to match the first, the club can forget about an AL West three-peat.
Sean Doolittle has risen from the ashes that was the Jim Johnson disaster, providing the A’s with a reliable closer and that must continue going forward. However, Doolittle has no postseason experience and has yet to close a game of any real significance. How Doolittle responds to the pressure that the second half brings will be the most significant factor for the A’s going forward.
There are worthy replacements for Doolittle within the A’s bullpen if he does struggle but no team wants to be worried about finding a new closer down the stretch, no matter how good the replacement options may be.
Every player will have to be a factor if the Oakland A’s are to claim their third division title in three years but the success of Vogt, Gray and Doolittle are particularly crucial to the team continuing their winning ways in the second half en route to a potential AL West three-peat.