Eighty-one games already?
Maybe it’s because the 2020 season was so short and I had a greater appreciation for baseball entering this season, but I can’t believe this campaign is already halfway over.
The A’s (47-34) woke up Wednesday morning 1.5 games behind the Houston Astros (48-32) for first place in the AL West, on pace for a 94-win season. They’d be the second AL Wild Card team if the season ended today, pitted against No. 4 seed Tampa Bay. Just seems like those two are destined for a playoff matchup one way or another.
The first few months of the season have been nothing if entertaining. Fans are back at the Coliseum, the 0-6 start, the 13-game win streak, the “Ride the Wave” movement, the trident, Ramon Laureano’s ridiculousness, six walk-off wins, the new stadium search shenanigans and more.
Here are my picks for the A’s midseason awards:
MVP – Matt Olson
Matt Olson entered spring training with a new approach, saying he had a better feel for inside pitches. His unique batting stance leaves his hands hanging over the plate but he said he figured out how to stop guessing on inside pitches and it looks like he has complete plate coverage now.
Olson has nearly halved his strikeout rate from 31.4% last season to 16.4% this season while his average has raised from .195 to .292. He’s the team leader in nearly every major offensive category including hits (80), doubles (18), dingers (20), RBI (53), slugging (.577), OPS (.951), wRC+ (159) and WAR (2.7).
The defensive metrics suggest he’s had a subpar year (-1 defensive run saved, per FanGraphs) but it seems like he’s been super solid over there and made lots of heads-up throws to begin double plays.
You just get the feeling that Olson can go deep at any given time, especially if a pitcher makes a mistake. He’s blooming into the prime of his career at the age of 27 and setting him up nice for the final two years of his arbitration.
Cy Young – Sean Manaea
This one was a toss-up between Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt, but I feel like Manaea has been more dominant of late with a 1.24 ERA over his past seven starts. Both guys have pitched like aces for the A’s this season.
A couple years ago as he worked his way back from shoulder surgery, Manaea was throwing 88-90 mph and it looked like he would have to reinvent his pitching style. But now his average heater is 91.7 mph, the highest since his rookie season, and he can hit 96 mph if needed.
Manaea told himself entering the year that he’s “nasty” and has backed it up by posting the highest strikeout rate of his career (9.3 K/9) with the AL’s sixth-lowest ERA (2.91). Manaea is also a beloved member of the team and is a key player in the team’s loose and fun clubhouse chemistry.
Manaea is the OG of the A’s pitching staff at this point and putting together the finest season of his career.
Rolaids relief man – Lou Trivino
Ah, the A’s bullpen.
Last year the relief corps was arguably the best part of the team, now the bullpen looks like the biggest hole on the roster.
Lou Trivino has been the most reliable reliever among Bob Melvin’s trusted triumvirate that also includes Jake Diekman and Yusmeiro Petit — who have been inconsistent all year. Trivino might not be as dominant as he was to begin the 2018 campaign, but he’s putting up solid numbers and doesn’t get the heart palpitating like most everyone else in the A’s ‘pen these days.
Trivino leads the group with a 1.93 ERA and has converted 12 of his 14 saves while emerging as the top dog out of the closer-by-committee situation to start the year. He has walked 17 batters in 37 1/3 innings, which is a bit alarming, but allowed just 25 hits to bring his WHIP to 1.13. Trivino has 34 strikeouts this season and hasn’t been charged with a run in his past 12 appearances.
Rookie of the Year – James Kaprielian
Right-hander James Kaprielian capitalized on his callup in May following injuries to Jesus Luzardo and Mike Fiers and firmly wedged himself into the A’s rotation.
From his memorable debut at Fenway Park on May 12, Kaprielian has been consistent and never had a big blowup start. The 27-year-old seems like he’s in control of the situation, even when his command evades him, and has a 52/19 K/BB ratio through 50 innings this year, with a 3.06 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.
Kaprielian entered the season as part of the “second wave” of A’s starters within the organization, with other guys like Daulton Jefferies, Grant Holmes and Parker Dunshee. While Jefferies dealt with an injury to begin the year, Kaprielian solidified the Oakland rotation and put plans for Luzardo on ice.
Rangers outfielder Adolis Garcia will probably run away with the AL Rookie of the Year trophy but Kaprielian could get sneak in some second- or third-place votes if he keeps this pace up the rest of the year.
Breakout player – Tony Kemp
It’s almost like Tony Kemp makes a showstopping play once a game.
Ever since his Superman catch at shortstop on May 18 against the Astros, Kemp has been locked into another level of production. He’s made a handful of highlight catches while slashing .297/.408/.525 with seven doubles, two triples, four dingers and 16 RBI in 35 games. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Kemp is his approach, as he has 31 walks and 28 strikeouts and the second-best BB/K ratio for any hitter with over 85 plate appearances.
Kemp always plays with a smile, so much energy and fun that he’s played his way into fan favorite status.
Most improved player – Elvis Andrus
I thought Elvis Andrus’ career might have been over through the first six weeks of the season.
Following a visit from Marcus Semien and the Blue Jays in early May, Andrus was slashing .143/.193/.171 in 31 games and looked like the worst hitter in MLB. Literally. No power, no nothing.
Since then, Andrus has looks like a different player in 47 games since, with a .282/.319/.378 slash line and the ability to whack baseballs to all fields. He doesn’t have the defensive range he once did, but he’s serviceable at shortstop and does a lot of little things that are hard to quantify.
I know Trevor Story has been a much-talked about target for the A’s, but I can’t see them pursuing Story while Andrus is producing like this.
Gold Glover – Matt Chapman
Ramon Laureano has made some mesmerizing catches in center field this year and robbed a couple of dingers, but Matt Chapman does the everyday work that makes him so valuable at the hot corner. He makes difficult plays routine on the regular.
Chapman leads all MLB third baseman with six defensive runs saved this season and doesn’t look like he’s missed a step on defense after undergoing offseason hip surgery. With his range and his cannon, Chapman could bring home the third Gold Glove of his career this season.