5 Traps the Oakland A's Need to Avoid in Order to Make the Playoffs
Yowza! The red hot Oakland Athletics have been grabbing national headlines of late after their dramatic sweep of the New York Yankees and posting an impeccable 15-2 record through the month of July. The A's are hitting on all (or most) cylinders, and have emerged as a considerable threat to steal a playoff berth in the American league, sitting atop the Wild Card standings and just five games out of first place in the AL West behind the Rangers.
However, the Athletics still have almost half a season to play and with the trade deadline fast approaching, they will need to make some critical decisions going forward as to how to supplement this improbable playoff run. The A's have a long ways to go on their 2012 journey to contention, and could get into the weeds as the season rolls along. Let's examine what the A's should do/avoid going forward if they wish to enjoy (late) October baseball.
Changing the Winning Formula
Oakland has been living and dying by the long ball of late, led by a platoon of slugging outfielders in Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes. These A’s have pop, and though they’re amongst the cellar of the major leagues in batting average and runs scored the Athletics have been able to manufacture runs with home runs and putting runners on base. While this might not be the most effective means of producing runs, the A’s have managed to supplement their dominant pitching enough to emerge as a playoff contender.
However, the A’s must tread carefully on this moon shot trend. Home run hitters tend to be more aggressive at the plate, leading to more strikeouts and a lower on base percentage. If Oakland is to keep up their Moneyball brand of play, reckless at bats could completely diminish the Athletics run production. Though the A’s rank near the bottom of the league in OBP, the team excels with its current run production given the amount of runs they allow, earning them a 1.25 run differential through the months of June and July, second best in the American League only to the Yankees.
However, even the slightest drop off in OBP would sink the offense. The Athletics need to ensure that they continue to play their brand of baseball by staying disciplined at the plate and continue to get on base as much as possible, rather than straining themselves for the fences.
Buying Too Much at the Deadline
The trade deadline is known as "Beane Time" in the Bay Area, but this season the A’s might be just as well off staying pat instead of making a move.
Names like Aramis Ramirez, Justin Upton and former Oakland fan-favorite Marco Scutaro have floated around rumor central as possible fits for the Athletics, but the A’s seem to be faring well in the win column without big names carrying the franchise as the season wears on. While the A’s might have multiple player available to them at the deadline, the franchise must be careful not to jeopardize its future or current success with a bad deal.
Besides, the Athletics should be getting ace Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson back sometime in the next few weeks, who both could serve as faux-midseason acquisitions if they can stay healthy and contribute off the mound down the stretch.
Selling Too Much at the Deadline
It’s hard not to see Bartolo Colon’s name not associated with an A’s trade rumor to some degree, and while Oakland has ample pitching to replace Colon should he be dealt, the Athletics should really tread carefully when it comes to moving the former Cy Young award winner.
While the A’s could get a solid prospect or two in exchange for Colon and have suitable replacements should he depart, removing a veteran starting pitcher from the rotation who is putting up revitalizing numbers (3.97 ERA, 73 SO, 1.25 WHIP through 118 IP) for a slew of youngsters unable to contribute this season would send a horrible message to a small market franchise in need of every weapon available if they are to make a legitimate playoff run come crunch time in September and October.
Breaking Up the Team Chemistry
While guys like Brandon Inge, Kurt Suzuki and Cliff Pennington have struggled heavily at the plate this season, the are the few veterans on this team stock loaded with rookies and young guns.
While there’s been heavy conversation about dealing for replacements for Inge and Pennington and third base and shortstop, respectively, the two provide the Athletics with solid leadership and consistent (and sometimes spectacular) defense on the left side of the infield.
Suzuki has fallen comfortably into a spot-catching roll behind rookie Derek Norris as Suzuki continues to mentor and develop the young gun behind the plate.
While these guys haven’t put up the numbers that are expected of them, they most certainly are key components to the roster that provide intangible behind-the-scenes contributions.
Surviving Their Grueling Schedule
Oakland has played one of the toughest schedules in the majors this season, with 58 of their 95 games coming against teams above .500. Though the A’s have fared exceptionally well in those contests with a 35-22 record, the road doesn’t get much any easier from here, with just 12 of their 66 remaining games coming against teams with losing records.
The schedule is the trap here, and Oakland has to realize that this recent hot streak is just the first step of many if they legitimately want a chance at contending this season. They play 13 games against first place teams, including a 10 game road stretch in late September against the Tigers, Yankees and Rangers. The Athletics have their work cut out for them, and it will certainly be interesting to see if Oakland can keep pace for the remainder of the season.