The A's begin a three-game series in New York today against a Yankee team that's struggled every bit as much as the A's have this year. New York is in third place in their division, three games under .500, while Oakland is also in third place, but two games over .500. Both the A's and Yankees have gone 3-7 over their last ten games.
At the conclusion of the series, the A's will have played 81 games -- the halfway point of the season. Behind the Mariners by 3.5 games, the A's will still be in third place no matter the outcome, but could make up some ground against a struggling pitching staff in the Bronx.
Even though it's unsettling to be hovering right around .500 at the midpoint of the year, this is familiar ground. Here are the A's records after 81 games in each of the past five seasons:
2006: 42-39, 1st place, 1.0 game up on Seattle, won AL West
2005: 40-41, 3rd place, 10.0 games back of Los Angeles, missed playoffs
2004: 46-35, 1st place, tied with Texas, missed playoffs
2003: 46-35, 2nd place, 7.0 games back of Seattle, won AL West
2002: 46-35, 3rd place, 5.0 games back of Seattle, won AL West
While the A's were a healthy 11 games over .500 three of those years, the last two have shown that as long as they're close to .500, a stretch run can save the season. With Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street due back soon, the bullpen's recent woes should be addressed (and Ruddy Lugo and Colby Lewis can be relieved of their duties).
The offense however, is still an issue, as Philip pointed out. While not terrible (see Sox, White), this isn't a playoff caliber offense at the moment. The A's started off the season completely lacking the ability to score runs, but have since begun to come around. Since the end of April, the A's have actually had a slightly above-average American League offense -- but not by much.
If more and more of Jason Kendall's plate appearances are taken away by Kurt Suzuki and Mike Piazza, I'd expect to see a boost in offense. Right now, the A's have a National League lineup with the equivalent of a pitcher hitting in the ninth hole.
The other offensive concern is shortstop. The combination of Bobby Crosby and Marco Scutaro has given the A's a .225/.277/.336/.612 line. That .612 OPS from SS is 27th in all of baseball -- only the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Cubs have received less production from that position. Crosby did have a good month of May (.291/.342/.437/.779), but so far in June, he's been one of the worst hitters on the team, slumping badly (.189/.252/.274/.526).
So what's the solution? My guess is that is would have to involve Kendall losing his playing time to actual hitters, Crosby remembering how to lay off the pitches down and away, someone discovering a cure for RISP disease, and Larry Davis actually keeping players healthy. I'm not even going to mention that Eric Chavez is underperforming expectations, because any more, that's the norm.
Hey, at least it's not all doom and gloom, though. Dan Haren still has a sub-2.00 ERA...