With the boneheaded management move by Washington Nationals leaders benching Stephen Strasburg for the duration, the new flavor-of-the-month team for the non-aligned to root for should be the Oakland A’s, who against all odds are going to make the playoffs and probably keep the much richer Los Angeles Angels out.
Everyone enjoyed the movie “Moneyball,” but if the A’s keep achieving in this manner there will be a sequel. Hollywood loves putting out films that have Roman numerals at the end of the title, so “Moneyball II” is waiting in the wings if the A’s pull off some preposterous achievement this fall as they are lining up to do.
Is there a more anonymous team in baseball than the 80-60 A’s? Oakland has the second best record in the American League at the moment, and is a mere three games behind the AL West Division-leading Texas Rangers. It is mid-September and the team of Unknown Players has a better record than the New York Yankees, leaders in the East, and the Chicago White Sox, leaders in the Central. Hats off to Billy Beane. Or is it Brad Pitt?
Going into Tuesday play the A’s have won four in a row and seven of their last 10 games. Oakland beat Los Angeles head-to-head Monday in the first of a four-game series that could put a stake in the heart of the Angels’ playoff hopes despite their millions of dollars in off-season investments in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. The Angels better win the next three, but there really isn’t any indication they will.
The A’s are in this position despite losing two key starting pitchers for the rest of the season. Bartolo Colon shot himself in the foot and the team in the back by getting nabbed for use of performance-enhancing drugs. He was suspended and likely will not be seen in an Oakland uniform as long as he lives. Then last week Brandon McCarthy got creamed in the head by a line drive, putting him in a life-threatening situation with a fractured skull. McCarthy seems to be recovering following brain surgery, but won’t pitch again this year and no one knows how he will fare down the line.
Despite both of those personnel losses, Oakland has not slowed down one bit. The A’s keep winning even if the average fan located outside of the Bay Area cannot name any of their pitchers and few of their position regulars. The sort of ace is Tommy Milone, age 25, who is 12-10. Jarrod Parker, 23, is 10-8. A.J. Griffin, 24, is 5-0 after starting a game the other day. A host of fill-ins are a couple of games over .500. Several relievers are doing well, but the mound corps seems a bit thin for playoff success.
As a team the A’s are batting an anemic .236. Only one regular is hitting over .266. The main run generator this season has been Josh Reddick, acquired from the Red Sox. He’s got 28 homers and 75 RBIs. Coco Crisp has 10 homers, 40 RBIs and 33 stolen bases. Jonny Gomes has been filling in the designated hitter role about half of the time and he has 16 homers and 42 RBIs. Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is hitting .286 with 16 homers and 66 RBIs. Cespedes, a Cuban defector and one-time star for the national team in his home country, is a rarity on the Oakland roster–a free-agent acquisition signed by outbidding other teams.
The A’s don’t score much, but they don’t give up much. There have to be days when manager Bob Melvin wonders how his players are winning. But they are. Oakland will be the least recognized team in the playoffs and will demonstrate what can still be accomplished with a low-budget operation.