Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Playing Their A's Game

The Oakland Athletics are not your typical sports franchise. Having the fourth lowest payroll in baseball and playing in one of the uglier facilities in baseball, may usually be looked at as hindrances. Not for the A’s. They find a way to win.

Let’s take a few steps back to the wonderful year of 2002. Billy Bean, the A’s GM, took the path never trodden down before. He decided to try and win with a system based strictly on numbers. He looked past anything such as age or past injuries and solely focused on On Base Percentages. It faltered for most of the year, but Billy stuck with it. Next thing you know, the A’s literally can not lose. That magical team broke the record win streak with 20 consecutive wins, only to lose to the Twins in the ALDS. That part is not what is important. There is a common knowledge in the world of sports that if there is a movie made about you, you have to have done something remarkable. The A’s are no exception, as Moneyball is just part one of the remarkable story that is continuing to this very day.

Let us now fast forward back to present day. 11 years after this remarkable season, but yet still no World Series. However, this could in fact be their best year to end the drought. Not one player for the Athletics is going to have statistics that will put you in a state of complete awe. Besides maybe Bartolo Colon with his 14-3 record and 2.54 ERA. I just can not get enough of a 265 pound 40 year old putting up numbers like that. Sure he may be falsely doing so as his name is on the list for the biogenesis scandal, but nonetheless, it still takes an incredible amount of skill to put up numbers like he has. “Cheater” or not, the man can still pitch. As for the rest of the pitching staff, they are on the opposite side of the spectrum, as none of them break 27 years of age. Despite their lack of experience, Dan Straily, AJ Griffin, Tommy Milone, and Jarrod Parker have consistently delivered for this team, and they will have to pick up even more of the load with Bartolo possibly facing suspension. They may be young, but they pitch well beyond their years.

At the plate, their leading hitter is not even breaking .300 (Josh Donaldson, .296) but again it is not the averages that matter, it is getting on base and delivering that hit when you need it most from a different guy every night. They may not have that standout performer, but yet they still rank eighth in the MLB in batting. Whether its veterans like Coco Crisp and Chris Young, or young and budding stars like Donaldson, Cespedes, and Reddick, they deliver when the stage is biggest.

What may be the most satisfactory about the A’s incredible success. The two most talked about the teams in the American League West are by far the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels. The Rangers possess a high quantity of big name guys that have led them to success in the past. In addition, the Angels have spent monumental amounts of money to bring in big names like Pujols, Hamilton, and Wilson. But where has this big spending left them you question? Two of the top eight payrolls in the League must surely be tops in the division right? Think again friends, acquaintances, associates, and Duke fans. The Rangers are a full six games worse than the A’s, and the Angels are, wait for it, a whopping thirteen games back. Do not expect this lead to get substantially smaller either.

What the Oakland Athletics have done this year is an incredible story. Yet, it should be of no surprise to any of us. They resemble the most satisfying ideal in sports, the underdog story. They have taken the fourth lowest payroll and turned it into a system of using every single cent wisely. They will not take in a player that does not fit into the system. If you are going to play in Oakland, you know what your role is and you execute. The A’s have been able to make the playoffs in the recent past but have not made a substantial run. This could change this year. They have the arms to make a run in the playoffs, and they have the lineup. With a little more experience than last year, they know what it takes. They are a group of winners. They grind out wins in any way they can. It resembles that team right across the Bay that has won two World Series in the past three years. The Giants simply grinded their way to being Champions. Can the A’s do the same? It will be a formidable task,  but this year we could very well be adding another page in the incredible story book that is the Oakland Athletics. -Ben Greer

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