As recently as two seasons ago the offensive attack at Oakland’s O.co Coliseum was stagnant. The A’s ranked 12th in the American League in runs scored as they struggled with just about every facet of hitting. That trend continued through the start of the 2012 season as well. At the All-Star break just one season ago Oakland ranked last in the AL in runs scored, scoring just a mere 19 runs more than worst-in-baseball San Diego. But something clicked during that magical 2nd half run a year ago. Oakland started pummeling the ball, scoring a run and a half more per game than they did before the summer’s festivities in Kansas City, as they rode their offense to a 51-25 finish and the AL West title.
Before the start of the 2013 season many were wondering which A’s offense was going to show up. Would it be the anemic, strikeout-friendly lineup that struggled to get things going during the season’s first half a year ago, or would it be the walk-off winning, home run bashing unit that propelled Oakland to the playoffs? Well, if early returns are worth anything it’s safe to say that last season’s 2nd half wasn’t a fluke. The boys in green and gold are punishing opposing pitchers once again, outscoring every other team in the Major Leagues. So how have the A’s been able to do this? Let’s take a look:
The A’s had one of the deepest rosters in baseball a season ago and it appears that Billy Beane is looking to build a similar roster in 2013 as well. In adding outfielder Chris Young, catcher John Jaso, and shortstops Hiroyuki Nakajima and Jed Lowrie, Beane took one of the most versatile rosters in baseball and made it even more flexible. Nakajima and Lowrie should be able to bounce around the infield, providing solid defense wherever needed. Chris Young is probably the best 4th outfielder in the league.
The platoons at 1st base, 3rd base, and catcher should all be able to produce at an above average rate and we haven’t even gotten to the loaded rotation yet, you know, the one that was 2nd in the AL in run prevention a year ago. And the best part for all you moneyball lovers out there, is that the A’s have done all this work on a shoestring budget. Oakland had one of the cheapest rosters in the Majors a year ago and unless a deep-pocketed buyer suddenly shows up by the bay, they will have one of the cheapest rosters again in 2013. So how is Billy Beane able to do it? Should GM’s opt for more for on base percentage and positional flexibility when building a roster? And should the rest of the league be taking notes?
Even though all 10 playoff spots have already been claimed this year, the last day of the season still has the potential for fireworks, particularly in the American League. There are plenty of important story lines floating around out there including: the American League West having a winner-take-all game out in Oakland, the AL East dogfight finally reaching a conclusion , and a Triple Crown coming into fruition, among other things. Let’s take a sneak peek at some of the more intriguing bits of news still left in the regular season.
As we head into the final two days of the regular season every playoff spot in the
American League has been claimed and still the playoff possibilities remain endless. The dogfight in the AL Central has a victor, with Detroit going all Red Baron on Chicago’s playoff chances, leaving the Sox dead in the water. But in the other two divisions, the fight to stay out of the coin-flip game rages on. New York and Texas are were many prognosticators felt they would be come October, but lurking just a game back in their respective divisions are Baltimore and Oakland, the season’s two biggest surprises. The AL West will have a winner one way or another.
Oakland still has hopes for the biggest division surprise win all time. All the upstart A’s need to do is sweep the two-time defending AL champs in Arlington otherwise the Rangers claim a 3rd straight title. Things are a little more complicated in the AL East, where a combination of either two Yankee wins or Oriole losses will hand the title to the pinstripes. In the event of a tie, both teams will play a game 163, with the winner claiming the division and the loser entering into the coin-flip game. The playoff possibilities are all over the place, with all four of the teams above still in contention for the AL’s best record. In fact, all we know for certain is that Detroit, the AL team with the 7th best record in the league, has the least to sweat out, knowing it will host somebody at Comerica this weekend.
All of which leads us to Friday, October 5th, the date the Wild Card game is scheduled to take place. Baltimore, New York, Oakland, and Texas would all prefer to avoid playing that day, but two of those teams will be left holding the short straws. At that point they will have a decision to make. Who do we start with everything on the line? Let’s take a look at the best option for each franchise.
“You’ve got to believe it. If we didn’t learn anything from last year you have to keep playing until you’re mathematically eliminated. In the meantime, believe that you can — and I do.” – Joe Maddon, commenting on his belief that the Rays can still make the playoffs
If any team in baseball history can pull of miracle finishes in back-to-back seasons it would have to be the Maddon-led Tampa Bay Rays. In 2011 the team sat 9 games back of a playoff spot on September 3rd before racing to a 16-8 finish to edge out the Red Sox and ride into the history books. Well, this year the Rays are vying to repeat history in what may turn out to be even more unlikely fashion. Tampa Bay is trying join the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals and the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers as the only teams to make up a 6 game deficit in the standings with 14 or fewer games left. Led by a strong pitching staff, a finally healthy Evan Longoria, and a surging BJ Upton, the Rays have already cut the deficit in half. And thanks to a potentially favorable schedule the rest of the way, they have the chance to do much, much more.
In 2011 we saw the St. Louis Cardinals use a powerful offense while leaning heavily on a revamped bullpen to roll all the way to a World Series title. Having a strong bullpen for the postseason has never been as important as it has during the past couple of seasons, and for good reason. Pitchers throw fewer innings per outing with each passing year, which means a larger part of the 9 inning burden falls on pitchers who throw no more than 70 innings a season normally. Many of these players will be called upon in situations with enormous ramifications, whether it be to match up with a slugger like Joey Votto or to get out of a bases loaded jam. Let’s take a look at which teams’ bullpens are best prepared to enter the war of attrition known as October baseball.
The race for the American League West title hasn’t been much of a contest for most of the season, until recently that is. At the All-Star break the Rangers had a comfortable 4 game lead on the surging Los Angeles Angels while nobody thought too much of the A’s, who were sitting 9 games back with a strong pitching staff. The Oakland A’s have been on fire since , posting the best record in baseball at 41-18 (.695 win %), while eating up 7 games in the standings. It’s not like the Rangers have been slouches either, as they have played .576 baseball (34-25) since the break.
All of that good baseball by the bay has put Oakland in the driver’s seat for the 1st Wild Card spot, owning a 5 game lead over 3rd place Los Angeles and a 3 game lead over Baltimore that may shrink by a game if the A’s drop today’s game. But as everybody knows, you don’t want to play in that play-in Wild Card game, because anything can happen in a single game series. No, the A’s have the sights set on something a little bigger: the AL West crown. The only question is: can the wrestle it from the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers?