Athletics

What the A's must fix in second half in hopes of playoff appearance

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USATSI

What the A's must fix in second half in hopes of playoff appearance

Despite a sluggish start to the season, the A's have bounced back to put themselves in a solid position to reach the postseason for the second straight year.

After winning just 19 of their first 44 games, the A's have gone 31-16 since May 15 to enter the All-Star break at 50-41, just 1 1/2 games out of the second American League wild-card spot.

Oakland's starting pitching, thought to be the team's weakness coming into the season, has actually performed quite well. A's starters currently rank fourth in the AL with a 4.17 ERA and second with 43 quality starts.

Surprisingly, the unit that has underperformed has been the bullpen. Last season, the A's had 18 blown saves the whole year, tied for the fifth-fewest in the majors. Oakland converted 71 percent of its save opportunities, also fifth-best in the big leagues. Even more impressive, the A's were 70-2 when leading after seven innings.

This season has been a completely different story. Oakland has already blown 16 saves, tied for sixth-most in MLB, converting only 57 percent of save opportunities, the eighth-worst rate in the league. The A's have already lost six times when leading after seven innings.

The main cause of Oakland's bullpen troubles can be traced to hard-throwing right-handers Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino, both of whom were phenomenal last season but have been underwhelming this year. The tandem has already combined for eight losses after a total of just five last season.

On the other hand, Liam Hendriks, Yusmeiro Petit, and Wei-Chung Wang have all been pleasant surprises. Hendriks has taken over the closer role from Treinen and even earned his first career All-Star selection.

[RELATED: Five A's bold predictions for second half]

Still, if the A's are going to reach the postseason, they will need Treinen, Trivino, and newcomer Joakim Soria to get back on track in a hurry. Oakland's roster is built to rely heavily on its bullpen and it will require strong performances from everyone, not just three relievers.

If the A's can stop surrendering late-inning leads, they will have a great chance to head back to the playoffs.

A's GM David Forst says bullpen improvement main priority for 2020

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A's GM David Forst says bullpen improvement main priority for 2020

MLB's hot stove season has been lukewarm, to say the least, especially when it comes to the A's. But they need arm help, especially in the bullpen.

Last year's reliever squad sang a different tune from what we used to see. That group led all of MLB with 30 blown saves. That's something A's general manager David Forst wants to make sure doesn't happen again.

“We need to get better. We need to try and catch the Astros and get out of that one-game playoff,” Forst told MLB.com's Martin Gallegos. “We have a number of things to do, but addressing the bullpen is definitely at the top of the list.”

The AL Wild Card has been a thorn in the side of the A's over the last three seasons -- they've lost each of those last trios of appearances including a recent 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

The free agency pool for relievers not only possesses a lot of talent, but a lot of those available arms appear to be what the team goes after historically.

Daniel Hudson could be a nice fit with his experience and the way he's made an uptick in his career -- despite his age (33) that doesn't deter the A's away. But that also shows whatever has been happening toward the postseason hasn't been working for them. 

“There’s a lot of talent in our bullpen,” Forst added. “I couldn’t say how many guys we need, but we have to have the depth, both starting, and bullpen, to last over a 162-game season.”

Liam Hendriks took over at the closer role last season and was sensational. He boasted a 1.80 ERA with 124 strikeouts in 85 innings. The 2019 All-Star took the place of Blake Treinen who wasn't the same from his previous almost immortal season. And we can't go without mentioning Yusmeiro Petit who had a great campaign of his own with a 2.71ERA with a 0.807 WHIP. 

Forst added he's excited about the future the Green and Gold will bring to the table -- and fans should be as well.

[RELATED: Where A's MVP finalist Semien wants to improve in 2020]

Last season, the A's top prospects Jesús Luzardo and A.J. Puk made short appearances out of the bullpen, but look to add to the starting rotation that will have a healthy Sean Manaea and a full season from Frankie Montas. 

“We feel like we’re going to be able to contend again in 2020. We still have some work to do, but we like our team coming back.”

Where A's MVP finalist Marcus Semien wants to improve next season

Where A's MVP finalist Marcus Semien wants to improve next season

OAKLAND -- Marcus Semien enjoyed a breakout season in 2019, in just about every area. The Oakland shortstop became the first A's player to register a top-three finish in the AL MVP race since Miguel Tejada in 2002.

"It means a lot," Semien told NBC Sports California. "It was a very competitive field this year. I think that the game is changing. There are so many players who can do everything on the field -- fielding, base running, scoring runs, producing runs. I'm trying to work on every part of my game to get better, and in the second half, I really made some improvements."  

Semien, 29, set career-highs in runs, hits, home runs, doubles, RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and just about any other stat you can think of. The Bay Area native might have been even better defensively, where he was a Gold Glove finalist for the second straight year.

But despite all of his accomplishments, Semien believes he still has room to improve in 2020.

"I think baserunning is a big one, just getting in scoring position more for our big hitters," Semien said. "We've got great hitters in the middle of the lineup, so walking and getting hits, you want to just make sure you run the bases right. Defensively, turn more double plays, help our pitchers. We're going to have some young pitchers, so we want to make them feel as comfortable as possible."

Last offseason, Semien's most significant development involved plate discipline. He reduced his strikeout total from 131 to 102 and drew a career-high 87 walks, 26 more than the year before.

Semien also matched an A's single-season record by scoring 123 runs, fourth-most in the majors.

"Scoring runs was a big one for me," Semien said. "Solidifying myself in the leadoff spot. I've been moving around the lineup for a couple of years now and just to solidify the leadoff spot and score runs and get in a routine was great."

[RELATED: A's star Semien tells mental health journey in HEADSTRONG]

While he appreciates the individual recognition, Semien's main focus is team success. After experiencing back-to-back Wild Card Game losses, he is optimistic that the A's can make a deeper run next season.

"I think we're going to be good," he said. "We want to start off better than we did last year. I think that our rotation will be more solidified. These last two years, we've added at the (trade) deadline to get our rotation where we want it to be, where this coming season, we'll hopefully start the rotation that we like. Position players are ready. I think that we'll have everybody healthy and it'll be fun."