While most teams played their 81st game in late June or the first weekend of July, the All-Star break is a good time to take stock and assess how each team is doing midway through the season.
It would be fair to say, when considering the Oakland Athletics, the term ‘not well’ would apply.
At the start of the season, I decided to be optimistic in my season preview and made the argument that the A’s might be able to achieve mediocrity this season.
Alas, I have been proved wrong thus far, with the team instead duelling with the Kansas City Royals for the worse record in Major League Baseball.
Ultimately, while there are certainly some very talented individual players combined with some solid if unspectacular veterans and some very promising rookies, the team as a whole hasn’t meshed well and is not good enough. This is why in-game errors continue to blight the team, and the team has been on the losing side of what were close games because of them. The series finale against the Rays last month is a fine example of a silly fielding error at the start of the game ultimately costing the A’s a win;
What is particularly frustrating is that this did not used to be the case – I would go so far as to say that, as recently as the 2021 season, the A’s making an error on defence used to be a collector’s item as it was so rare. Instead, it now seems like the A’s can’t go one game without making an error that gifts the opposition a stolen base or a run that should not have happened.
The reason why the Athletics didn’t make errors is because the team used to have two strengths; a good defence and a deep bullpen filled with reliable pitchers.
Now, neither of these strengths are present, and Shintaro Fujinami is sadly a very good example of an individual player who has not lived up to the hype and who has been a let-down to the team. In my season preview, I sung the guy’s praises and I now have to hold my hands up and say that I was wrong. This is what happens when you only watch the highlights of a new signing – they only show the good stuff he’s done.
In reality, Fuji hasn’t been good enough since stepping up to the major league level – he is inconsistent, and he throws a lot of balls and wild pitches, meaning he has walked a lot of batters (30) and currently has an ERA of 9.0 having played in 31 games – seven of which have been starts – and pitched 45 innings. It should be said that he has been better in the last six or seven games in which he has played, during which he has brought his ERA down, having previously been in the double figures. Hopefully, this trend continues for him.
There are, however, reasons to be cheerful. In particular, we have some very good rookies in Esteury Ruiz and Ryan Noda. As I noted in my last article on selecting an A for this year’s All-Star Game, Ruiz currently leads all of MLB in stolen bases with 43, while Noda is now third among all qualified players with 59 walks. Furthermore, both are also contributing positively to the team across the hitting stats – Ruiz leads the team in both hits (89) and has the highest batting average (.257), while Noda is second to only Brent Rooker in RBIs with 36 and has the team’s highest OBP (.381). Given the A’s also have other promising rookies in the system like Jordan Diaz and Connor Capel, not to mention Lawrence Butler and Tyler Soderstrom, both of whom played in this weekend’s All-Star Futures Game, as well as last year’s Futures Game MVP Shea Langeliers, the future is potentially looking very bright for the A’s in terms of emerging player talent.
Furthermore, the seven-game winning streak at the start of June, including series wins against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays either side of a sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers, was also great while it lasted. We’ve since also scored a series win against the White Sox as well, thus showing that this team is capable of doing good things and being competitive. All-in-all, the team hasn’t done too badly since the start of June.
As an A’s fan, it is impossible to fall in love with this team or any of the players though, in spite of their best efforts, because history tells us that the team’s best players always are either traded for prospects or leave in free agency for a team that will actually pay them what they are worth on the open market. As such, I’m worried that the likes of Paul Blackburn, Tony Kemp and my current favourite, Seth Brown, aren’t going to be with the team next season.
This also speaks to the deeper issues affecting the ballclub currently. The prospect of the team moving to Las Vegas still hangs large over everything the team is doing, with a binding agreement to build a $1.5 billion stadium on The Strip having been signed in April before another agreement was then reached in May to build on the other side of Interstate 15 on the site of The Tropicana. Either way, it is now looking very likely that the team will be leaving the Oakland area within the next few years, particularly as the Nevada legislature have also given final approval to publicly fund a portion of the new stadium too.
As such, when you consider the team’s dismal record combined with what looks like an inevitable move away from the city the organisation claimed it was rooted in (even in ads celebrating former A Liam Hendricks in his native Australia, where the term means something VERY different…) and rising ticket prices, it should come as no surprise attendances continue to be the worst in MLB this season, with an average of just over 10,000 fans in attendance per game. At this point, seemingly only the possum in the visitors’ broadcast booth attends every game, and it speaks to those deeper issues with both the organisation and the Coliseum that there is a marsupial living in the walls.
In terms of this season though, the team seems to be going nowhere fast, and, as fans, the best we can do is enjoy the small wins while we can.
Featured Image – Jamie Squire/AFP
Brett is Batflips & Nerds’ Oakland A’s Contributor, and can be found on Twitter @BrettChatsSport.