The 2015 season was not the year of the Oakland Athletics. Between the effects of a veritable deluge of injuries, and the mid-season trades of Ben Zobrist, Scott Kazmir and Tyler Clippard, the team fielded, at best, a patchwork quilt of a lineup through much of the season.
Despite this, it was more a series of one-run losses and wins-that-should-have-been that closed the door on the playoff hopes of the Fightin’ Beanes. Not too far in the past, this was a team as likely as any to put together a strong offensive finish, or a walk-off win, but in 2015 that magic departed. Way back in July, the Athletics had already posted 22 one-run losses, failing to make that late-game charge that could have pushed them over the top.
Considering that most of Oakland’s starting pitchers had either been lost to free-agency or traded in late 2014, and the rest were in and out of the trainer’s room with a variety of injuries, it’s remarkable how close this team came to contending. Twenty-two one run losses turned around could have changed a season, and the entire face of baseball, considering the mid-season trades that might not have been.
Back in January, closer Sean Doolittle suffered a shoulder injury, and he injured it again in May. His 2015 season consisted of only 12 appearances, and this definitely hurt in those close games. Overall, the A’s had at least six starters on the disable list at any given point in the season, and by the end of 2015, four of the pitchers in their starting rotation were out. For most of the second half of the season it was sort of a whoever-is-healthy rotation, as Chris Bassitt missed some starts, and right-handers Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin never even got into a game. Ben Zobrist missed a month with a bad knee, Ike Davis had hip surgery, and Coco Crisp only made it into only 44 games due to a nagging neck injury. It was difficult at times to guess who would be in the lineup any given night.
When the trade deadline came around, the team made the decision to cut their losses, and became sellers, moving left-hander Scott Kazmir, reliever Tyler Clippard and possibly the best utility player in baseball, Ben Zobrist in trades that bolstered their farm system for the future.
It wasn’t all gloom and doom. Rookie center fielder Billy Burns saw a lot of action due to Crisp’s injury, and he shone, hitting a very impressive .294 from the leadoff spot – a rare opportunity for a rookie – and putting on an impressive show in the field as well, impressive enough to put him fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting. Rookie Mark Canha was picked up from the Marlins in the Rule 5 draft, and also hit solidly, driving in 70 and hitting 16 home runs.
While healthy, Sonny Gray put up some impressive numbers of his own, going 14-7 with an ERA of 2.73 – the third-best ERA among American League starters.
Still, 2016 is a huge question mark for the Athletics. Going into 2015, the A’s gave up budding star Addison Russell, now on the Chicago Cubs, and Josh Donaldson, who was still under control for several years, as well as being a box-office draw. They got next to nothing useful for Donaldson, and there is still a lot of head-scratching going on over that deal. If they can get their rotation healthy, maybe bolster it with a free-agent starter (Kazmir could be brought back, but he may have pitched himself out of Oakland’s price range) and possibly an upgrade in the DH slot, Oakland should do decidedly better than 68 wins in 2016. Many of the pieces are already in place to turn Billy Beane’s plucky bunch back into a playoff contender much more quickly than anyone thought possible.