A’s are season’s most inspiring story
Perhaps you spent the past few days on a debaucherous yacht off the coast of Fiji.
The Oakland Athletics made your weekend look pretty lame.
They swept four games from the mighty New York Yankees, who own baseball’s best record. Three last-at-bat wins, two walk-offs, and now the Anonymous A’s are tied for a wild card spot.
No best-selling books or major motion pictures about this team — yet. But the season is young.
Ten years after the famed "Moneyball" draft, the White Shoes are outrunning even the most optimistic projections. In a summer that has seen the Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles contend, the A’s are baseball’s most inspiring story.
… During the offseason, general manager Billy Beane traded three of the team’s most valuable pitchers — Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey — largely for financial reasons.
… The A’s have used 17 rookies this year. That is the most in the majors, according to STATS LLC.
… Manager Bob Melvin’s team was last in the American League West as recently as June 10. At 25-9, it has the best mark in the majors since.
… Melvin handed the ball to a rookie starter for three games against New York: A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker. (Milone and Parker would be co-front-runners for the Rookie of the Year award, if it weren’t for a certain Angels outfielder.)
… Oakland’s 11 walk-off wins are the most in the majors this year, according to STATS LLC.
… A crowd of 30,470 witnessed Sunday’s series finale, and not one of them came to appreciate the ballpark’s aesthetics. The Coliseum is the worst stadium in the major leagues by a wide margin. The franchise doesn’t have a firm plan for its future — not in Oakland, not in San Jose, and there is no going back to Shibe Park in Philadelphia.
In fact, that is part of the team’s charm. The A’s are the young, charismatic couple whose ability to pay rent hinges entirely on their entrepreneurial zeal. One can’t help but admire their moxie.
Right about now, you may be wondering if the A’s are for real. I can’t say that for certain. I do know this: Oakland has the AL’s best ERA at 3.38. And in an exclusive interview, high-ranking baseball sources told FOXSports.com that teams tend to win when they pitch well.
The A’s’ serendipitous ride has forced us to rethink many of the commonly held assertions about the AL West. It’s no longer preordained that the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels will finish 1-2, in some order, as just about every pundit predicted during spring training. If the Angels hadn’t defeated the Rangers on Sunday night, they would have fallen into third place — behind the A’s.
A substantial part of the A’s’ story this year has been Beane’s return as the "Moneyball" mastermind. I’ll confess to thinking Beane had gone Hollywood, as can happen after a Brad Pitt portrayal. (Not that I would know.) Beane hadn’t built a postseason team since 2006, and it appeared he had grown tired of the unglamorous work necessary to win in today’s hypercompetitive game.
Apparently, I read him wrong. Beane and his front-office lieutenants procured the right prospects when they dealt Gonzalez, Cahill and Bailey.
Milone (9-6, 3.34) and Derek Norris, the current everyday catcher, arrived from Washington for Gonzalez; Parker (7-4, 3.00) and All-Star closer Ryan Cook (10 saves, 1.70 ERA) were the big names Beane acquired for Cahill and reliever Craig Breslow; and while Bailey has yet to throw a pitch for the Boston Red Sox, right fielder Josh Reddick ranks among the AL’s top 15 in OPS.
There has been some head-shaking good fortune, too: Sunday’s starting pitcher was none other than journeyman Bartolo Colon — a Yankee at this time last year. Colon has a 2.49 ERA this month, after his latest solid outing. At $2 million, he’s one of the best bargains in baseball.
Colon, as much as any other player, has come to represent the A’s’ pitching wealth. Some have suggested Beane might trade him, given the potential returns of injured starters Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden. Oakland has more pitching than it needs. For how many other teams is that an honest assessment?
I know this: The Rangers and Angels can’t make the same claim. Both teams are in the market for a starting pitcher. Texas may be without two starters for the foreseeable future, with Roy Oswalt (back) missing Monday’s scheduled start and Colby Lewis (forearm) questionable for his next turn. The Angels are about fed up with the inconsistency of Ervin Santana, who failed to complete the second inning Saturday.
The A’s are perfectly capable of hanging around, while the Rangers and Angels scramble to upgrade before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, the brawny Cuban defector, has been as advertised. The accidentally excellent supporting cast — Brandon Inge? Eric Sogard? Brandon Moss? Chris Carter? — seems smart enough to know that this is no time to start thinking about whether they truly belong.
First place in the AL West is in play. So, too, is second. As of this moment, your preseason notions about this division are officially outdated.
That is, unless you picked the Seattle Mariners to finish last. I can just about promise that you will be right about that.