OAKLAND -- On the heels of a disappointing 2007 season in which they tied an Oakland record by using the disabled list 22 times, the A's made a number of offseason changes in an effort to prevent a recurrence of that health-related nightmare.


They replaced longtime head athletic trainer Larry Davis with his top aide, Steve Sayles, and a state-of-our-health symposium at the team's Arizona complex over the winter helped pave the way for the flurry of deals that brought in an impressive load of prospects.

The changes haven't stemmed the injury tide, however. The A's used the DL 18 times in the first half, and while Oakland entered the All-Star break well within striking distance of the American League West-leading Angels and the AL Wild Card spot, health will be key if the surprising young team can stay in both races.

Club MVP: Shortstop Bobby Crosby didn't put up spectacular numbers in any category, but he was the most steady presence in the lineup as the only Athletic to start each of the team's first 84 games. He avoided prolonged slumps, played solid defense at a key position and was among the league leaders in doubles.

Call him "Ace": After an early season trip to the disabled list, All-Star right-hander Justin Duchscherer was one of the most consistent pitchers in the game in the first half. His transition from the bullpen has been seamless.

Greatest strength: The pitching staff had the best ERA in the league for most of the first half, and the starting rotation was particularly strong.

Biggest problem: Staying healthy. Scoring runs was a problem at times, but not the biggest problem by any stretch.

Biggest surprise: Rookie outfielder Ryan Sweeney, acquired in the offseason deal that sent Nick Swisher to the White Sox, is one of the team's best all-around players. Few expected it to happen this fast.

Team needs: With the respective returns of Frank Thomas and Mike Sweeney uncertain, the A's could use some right-handed power in the middle of their lineup. With Eric Chavez, a left-handed hitter, also facing an uncertain immediate future, any pop in the middle of the order would be extremely helpful.

Oh, doctor: Chavez (back), righty starter Chad Gaudin (hip, foot) and righty reliever Kiko Calero (shoulder) opened the season on the DL. Gaudin came back first, but was since traded to the Cubs in the Rich Harden deal; Chavez returned after missing almost two months, but is back on the DL with a bum shoulder; Calero returned a day after Chavez, but never looked quite right and was released late in the first half.

RHP Duchscherer -- Right forearm strain forced him to miss 22 days in early April, but he's healthy and thriving.

RHP Keith Foulke -- The veteran righty reliever was out from April 20 to May 9 with neck stiffness; went back on DL on July 4 with right shoulder inflammation.

OF Travis Buck -- Outfielder was out from April 19 to May 10 with shin splints; was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento shortly after being activated, spent time on Sacramento's DL with a concussion and remains with the River Cats.

OF Chris Denorfia -- Was placed on DL with back stiffness on May 11 and suffered a setback during rehab; still inactive.

RHP Santiago Casilla -- Righty was most reliable reliever before being spending more than a month (May 16-June 19) on the DL with elbow soreness; hasn't looked nearly as sharp since his return.

INF Donnie Murphy -- Backup infielder was on DL from May 19 to June 20 with right elbow inflammation.

RHP Andrew Brown -- Another key to Oakland's early-season success in the bullpen, righty reliever was out from May 14 to June 8 after an emergency appendectomy.

RHP Joey Devine -- Rookie righty reliever was tremendous after early-season callup, but has been out since May 26 with elbow inflammation.

DH Thomas -- Placed on DL with torn tendon in right quad on May 29; hopes to return sometime this month, but that looks optimistic at best.

1B/DH Mike Sweeney -- Was rock-solid before going on DL on May 30 with left knee inflammation; had surgery on both knees shortly thereafter and might not be back until August.

OF Ryan Sweeney -- Placed on DL on May 30 with a left toe contusion, but returned as soon as he was eligible (June 13); missed time with with a left ankle sprain late in the first half.

SS Crosby -- Placed on DL on July 5 with a strained left hamstring; should be ready to return as soon as he's eligible (July 18).

He said it: "Pitching has carried us. No question about it." -- A's manager Bob Geren

Mark your calendar: July 18-20 at Yankees; Aug. 1-3 at Red Sox; Aug. 15-17 vs. White Sox; Aug. 25-27 at Angels; Sept. 16-18 vs. Angels.

Fearless second-half prediction: Righty Joe Blanton will be traded for prospects before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but the A's will continue to flirt with Wild Card contention into mid-August.