Whether baseball fans like it or not, the Oakland Athletics have been the leagues hottest, most consistent team of this Major League Baseball season. With Sunday’s 4-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, the A’s secured not only their eighth series sweep in 2014, they also 55-33 a week before the Mid-Summer Classic. They ended the first half with the best record in all of baseball and their best mid-season mark since 1988, where the A’s went 52-29 through the first 81 games. In Bob Melvin’s third season managing the club, the A’s have proven the previous two seasons were not a fluke.
The A’s have had plenty of success in every aspect of the game this season. Although the A’s are in the middle of baseball when it comes to batting average (.251 for 14th in the league), they are still third in on base percentage (.331) and they lead the league in runs scored (435). A lot of credit needs to go to hitting coach Chili Davis and the way he has changed this hitting culture in the club house. The A’s will make any pitcher work for an out unlike previous seasons, forcing opposing pitching into 343 walks through the first 88 games. The 92 home runs hit as a team is also a big factor as to why the Oakland Athletics lead the majors in runs scored.
A lot of the power has come from the middle of the batting order. Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, and Yoenis Cespedes have combined for 52 of the teams 92 home runs. The three, also known as Runs DMC, have been a force in the middle of the line-up and have all been selected for the 2014 All-Star Game in Minneapolis earlier Sunday evening. This marks the first time since 2004 that the A’s would have more than one All-Star represented in the Mid Summer Classic when Tim Hudson and Barry Zito represented the A’s in Houston in 2004. The A’s, who bring six all stars to the game for the first time since 1975, will also be represented by catcher Derrik Norris, and pitchers Scott Kazmir and Sean Doolittle.
Donaldson has flourished in the last two seasons, while becoming not only an MVP for the A’s, but a candidate for the American League MVP. The A’s have also received big contributions from Coco Crisp, the A’s leading in batting average, and catchers Stephen Vogt and Norris, who have split time behind the plate this season with John Jaso.
The biggest surprise for the A’s this season has been the emergence of a pitching staff that had more questions than answers. Jarrod Parker, who many thought would be the teams ace, and A.J. Griffin both underwent Tommy John Surgery before the season even began. Bartolo Colon, who was the A’s best pitcher last season also departed to the New York Mets in the off-season. The reason for the pitching success has fallen on new ace Sonny Gray, and Scott Kazmir, who at 10-3, leads the starters in both wins and earned run average (2.66) after playing half a season with Cleveland last year. After the struggles of former closer Jim Johnson, Doolittle has been able to shut games with 13 saves and a 2.98 ERA.
The A’s starting five received a major boost on Friday. After a 1-0 Fourth of July win over the Toronto Blue Jays, fans were not celebrating the victory as much as they were after the game. A blockbuster trade with the Chicago Cubs brought starters Jeff Samardjiza, who won his A’s debut earlier today, and Jeff Hammel to the Oakland rotation. The move made this rotation one of the best, if not the best in all of Major League Baseball.
For the A’s to succeed in the second half, they have to one up the first half of the season. Holding one of the leagues best road records with 27-15 has shown a very positive sign that manager Bob Melvin has what it takes to win his third Manager of the Year award. There are 74 games left in the season and with teams like the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers, the American League West might once again, like the previous two seasons, come down to who can compete with the New Moneyball team that General Manager Billy Beane has put together.
The bigger question: How far can this team go? With Friday’s trade with the Cubs, Beane has put all of his chips on the table for this team to make a serious World Series run.