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<  Gary Hill - High Heat

The Mariners versus the best team in baseball

By Gary Hill

The Mariners take on the Athletics for the first of three games starting Friday night. The M's took two of three when these teams last met in Seattle a month ago. Since then the A's have rocketed to the top of the AL West thanks to winning 21 of their last 26 games. The defending American League West champs are tied with the Red Sox for the best record in the AL. They are second best in all of baseball to the Cardinals.

Going back exactly 365 days from this moment reveals that the A's have been the very best team in all of baseball. They have stacked up an impressive 106-win total. Here are the top-10 records for the last 365 days:

A's, 106-60
Reds, 102-65
Braves, 99-66
Cardinals, 98-66
Yankees, 95-71
Orioles, 94-72
Tigers, 94-69
Rangers, 94-70
Nationals, 93-73

The A's have been tremendous on the mound the past year. They feature a 3.46 ERA, which is tied for best in the AL and is fourth best overall in MLB. They also have the best ERA (2.59) in the last 28 days of play and have gone 20-5 in that time. Their rotation has been very strong in particular. Their 3.59 ERA is over a half run better than the average.

A's general manager Billy Beane tore apart his rotation after a 74-88 finish in 2011. He dealt All-Stars Gio Gonzalez to Washington and Trevor Cahill to Arizona. The moves have resulted in a rotation where Bartolo Colon has more Major League seasons under his belt than the rest of Oakland's five starters combined. Despite the youth, their rotation has been extremely effective during the past calendar year:

Jarrod Parker: 15-11, 4.07 ERA, 33 starts
Tommy Milone: 13-10, 3.41 ERA, 31 starts
A.J. Griffin: 12-6, 3.42 ERA, 28 starts
Bartolo Colon: 12-5, 2.68 ERA, 23 starts
Dan Straily: 6-3, 4.22 ERA, 17 starts
Brett Anderson: 5-6, 4.22 ERA, 11 starts

The back end of the bullpen has been a strength as well thanks to Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Sean Doolittle and Pat Neshek. The A's maintain the third-best bullpen ERA (2.89) in baseball this season.

They have coupled their fine pitching with an offensive engine that is steaming through MLB at a rapid pace. They have scored the second-most runs (792) in all of baseball the past 365 days. Only the Angels (797) have scored more. Not surprisingly, they have whacked the third-most homers (205) and walked the most (602). During the past calendar year the A's have had seven different players reach double digits in homers:

Yoenis Cespedes, 30
Brandon Moss, 27
Josh Reddick, 19
Coco Crisp, 18
Josh Donaldson, 17
Seth Smith, 13
Derek Norris, 10

No team in baseball has had more players reach double-digit home run totals.

The Athletics' defense has also played a key role in their rise. According to FanGraphs.com they were ranked 26th in defense (minus-4.2 UZR/150) in 2011. They improved themselves to eighth last season (2.7). When healthy, their outfield defense of Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Coco Crisp is among the best in the game.

The Mariners will have their hands full this weekend as they take on the best team in baseball right now.

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