By Gary Hill
When you scan the current Major League Baseball standings you will see several items that will not surprise you. The New York Yankees are sitting on top of the AL East. The Texas Rangers are leading the AL West. The wildcard race is being paced by the Oakland A's…….. The Athletics, really? This same A's team that was 22-29 at the end of May would be the first wildcard team if the season ended at this moment. This is the same A's team that lost promising starters Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden to major arm injuries. In the offseason they appeared to be stripping their roster when they shipped closer Andrew Bailey to Boston, ace Gio Gonzalez to Washington and the capable Trevor Cahill to Arizona. The A's have not finished above .500 since 2006 and were 14 games below .500 a year ago. There seemed to be little hope that their fortunes would change heading into this year.
However, Oakland A's have been on a torrid streak (19-5 in July) that has pushed them into the top wildcard spot. Going into last night they have the best record since June 2nd:
New York Y- 33-20
What has been the key to success for the surprising A's?
For the most part the Oakland A's have been winning the Earl Weaver way- "pitching, defense, and the three-run homer".
The A's boast the 4th best ERA in baseball at 3.43. The staff was even more impressive in July lowering the mark to 3.14 which was 5th best in all of baseball for the month. Ryan Cook (4-2 1.79) has led a band of under-appreciated bullpen mates to an impressive 2.83 season ERA. Opponents are hitting just .208 against the A's pen. Jim Miller (2-1 2.16), Jerry Blevins (4-0 2.20), Grant Balfour (2-2 2.76) and Jordan Noberto (3-1 2.93) all feature ERAs below 3.00 and WARs of a least 0.7 or above. The ingredients for the rotation success have been part Brandon McCarthy (6-3 2.54), part reclamation projects Bartolo Colon (8-8 3.55) and Travis Blackley (3-3 3.15) and part young pitching surprises A.J. Griffin (3-0 2.51, Jarrod Parker (7-5 3.44) and Tommy Milone (9-8 3.68). With the exception of McCarthy the entire rotation for the Oakland A's has been turned over in 1 year and they are thriving with the 6th best ERA for starters in baseball.
Defense has not necessarily been a strength for the A's in recent seasons, but that has changed this year. According to UZR rankings they are 7th best in all of baseball. The addition of Josh Reddick and his top-10 UZR has helped the A's a great deal. In comparison the A's were 25th in UZR last year.
The A's offense is very interesting to examine. First of all they are hitting .229 as a team which is dead last in baseball. However, they are tied for 4th in bases on balls which pushes their on-base % to .304 which is still only 27th in MLB. The A' s have the second least amount of hits in baseball, but they have made the most of them by swatting 114 homers which is 13th overall. The homeruns push their run total to 419 which is 24th in baseball. Their offense has surged in July scoring 117 runs which is the 14th best total in baseball and crushing 36 homers (4th).
Despite down years from Kurt Suzuki, Daric Barrton, Jemile Weeks and others the A's continue to survive primarily on the production from two newcomers. Josh Reddick was acquired from Boston in the Bailey deal and he has been sensational. His defense has been tremendous and he has responded offensively with 23 homers and 21 doubles. Fellow newcomer Yoenis Cespedes has contributed a .307 batting average with 14 homers and 54 driven in. Reddick and Cespedes have been the keys offensively to the A's formula which could easily be labeled as pitching, defense and just enough offense. The A's remade a good deal of their roster in the offseason and with the exception of the Manny Ramirez fiasco every move has contributed to the success.
-December 9, 2011 Traded Trevor Cahill with Craig Breslow and cash to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Ryan Cook, Colin Cowgill and Jarrod Parker.
-December 28, 2011 Traded RHP Andrew Bailey and OF Ryan Sweeney to Boston for OF Josh Reddick, 1B Miles Head and RHP Raul Alcantara.
-December 23, 2011 Traded LHP Gio Gonzalez and Robert Gilliam to Washington for Tommy Milone, A.J. Cole, Derek Norris and Brad Peacok
-January 24, 2012 Agreed to terms with RHP Bartolo Colon on a one-year contract.
-January 26, 2012 Agreed to terms with OF Jonny Gomes on a one-year contract. Designated INF Adrian Cardenas for assignment.
-February 13, 2012 Agreed to terms with OF Yoenis Cespedes on a four-year contract.
-February 20, 2012 Agreed to terms with OF Manny Ramirez on a minor league contract.