At the beginning of the season, the Oakland Athletics were among the teams people left out of playoff conversations.
Now, nobody can stop talking about the Swingin' A's.
Oakland is just 5.5 games out of first place in the AL West, and, if the season ended today, they would earn a wild-card spot in the playoffs. The A's have a very well-rounded team and lots of players who know how to come up with big hits.
Even though the A's have been on fire, lots of people think they're pretenders and that they'll fall behind the Tigers and Angels in the wild-card race. And I'm here to say they won't. Here are three reasons why the A's are playoff and maybe even World Series contenders.
Oakland doesn't have a true superstar (although Yoenis Cespedes could make a case for being one), but they have capable players at every position.
In 281 at-bats, Cespedes is hitting .306 with 14 homers and 54 RBI. Cespedes is fast and possesses tons of power. The versatile outfielder has been amazing in the second half and he is one of the main reasons that the A's are 58-50.
Another reason is Josh Reddick. Reddick has a .261 batting average, 24 homers, 56 RBI, a .333 OBP and an .849 OPS, which all come in second behind Cespedes (although Cespedes doesn't qualify among the league leaders for BA, OBP and OPS because he doesn't have enough at-bats).
Reddick's defense has been great too, and Seth Smith has done a nice job with the glove. While no one other than Cespedes and Reddick have hit very well, the pitching has been spectacular.
Rookies Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone have both been great, and those two and Bartolo Colon both have ERAs under four. Brandon McCarthy, the Athletics ace, will return soon, and he will return a dominant group of pitchers.
Jerry Blevins and Ryan Cook have led the way for a spectacular Athletics bullpen, and Grant Balfour and Jordan Norberto have also done a nice job. Everyone on the A's is capable of succeeding and that's why the team has been so good.
The Oakland A's have been great recently, but it's taken some luck.
Oakland leads the league by far with 13 walk-off wins, and Coco Crisp leads the team with three walk-off hits. It seems like every player has delivered a walk-off or game-winning hit at some point in the year, especially in July and August.
Closer Ryan Cook has blown some saves recently, but he's been great this year. As long as the starters keep the A's in the game, Oakland has a pretty good chance to win. It seems like Yoenis Cespedes and his .366 OBP always come through, and if he doesn't, Crisp, Smith, Reddick, Jemile Weeks, Jonny Gomes, Brandon Inge or someone else usually does.
Thanks to this hitting, Oakland is 58-50. Expect it to keep coming. The A's are in the top half of the league in home runs, and their offense has been great recently. I wouldn't expect Oakland to score tons of runs, but I would expect them to get into and win close games.
They're nearly unbeatable when the game comes down to the wire.
Oakland needs a minor upgrade at a couple of positions, but overall, they have a lot of talent.
Milone, Parker and newly called-up strikeout artist Dan Straily anchor a strong rotation that will be rock-solid for years to come. Blevins, Cook and others are anchoring a strong bullpen, and Cespedes is headlining an offense that's on a roll.
Even though Derek Norris and George Kottaras aren't great catchers and Eric Sogard and Cliff Pennington aren't great shortstops, the A's still have a solid team. Oakland wasn't able to acquire Marco Scutaro from the Rockies, although they may still go after a shortstop. According to Devin Pangaro of the Swingin' A's blog, Oakland went after a lot of middle infielders at the trade deadline.
If a shortstop goes on waivers, expect Oakland to make a move. They don't want to go on with Eric Sogard at shortstop, and they will probably upgrade. Oakland will probably platoon Kottaras and Norris at catcher, but they want help at shortstop.
Even if the A's don't upgrade, they still have a lot of talent. The Angels probably have more talent, and both teams will compete for a wild-card spot. Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Albert Pujols and Jered Weaver headline a talented Angels team that's ready to compete and go far in the playoffs.
The White Sox and Tigers will also try to secure a spot. The White Sox lead the AL Central right now, but the Tigers will probably pass them. If the White Sox do fall back into the wild-card race, they'll probably be Oakland's main threat.
Chicago has Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko and Alex Rios, who have all done well this year. However, they aren't as well-rounded as the A's, and Oakland has much better pitching. Boston, Toronto, Tampa Bay and Baltimore, some other competitors, have good teams, but Oakland has more talent.
Tampa Bay has good pitching but terrible hitting. Oakland's offense is on a roll, and they've been doing better than the Rays recently. Oakland has much better pitching than Boston, Baltimore and Toronto, and that alone should make them an instant favorite for an AL wild-card spot.
Not to mention that they're already leading the wild-card race. As long as they keep up at this pace, Oakland will be in the playoffs for the first time in six years.