Oakland A's: Using the Long Ball to Fuel Playoff Chase
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Chicks dig the long ball. They also dig movies with the handsome Brad Pitt starring as the equally handsome Billy Beane.
The Oakland A's are leading the American League Wild Card chase mostly because of their 3.47 team ERA, which is fifth in all of baseball. However, it is the long ball that has kept the offense afloat this season.
On the offensive side of things, the A's are just 23rd in runs scored, dead last in batting average, 27th in on-base percentage, 23rd in slugging percentage and 24th in OPS. However, the A's do two things well on offense that has kept them from being a complete disaster with the bats: they lay off bad pitches, and they hit a lot of home runs.
Only the Cleveland Indians have swung at fewer pitches out of the strike zone than the A's so far this season. So, although the A's are near the bottom of the league in getting on base, that has more to do with their low batting average than any lack of patience. In fact, the A's are fourth in the game in walk percentage.
The A's ability to stay in the strike zone has fueled their ability to hit the long ball. Despite playing in a pitcher-friendly park that suppresses home runs, the A's are 11th in the league in homers.
Josh Reddick leads the A's with 25 long balls, followed by five-tool sensation Yoenis Cespedes (14 home runs), veteran DH Jonny Gomes (12), his platoon partner Seth Smith (11), former Tigers' castoff Brandon Inge (11) and the first base platoon of Brandon Moss (11 in only 47 games) and Chris Carter (10 in 29 games).
The A's are getting plenty of offense from the DH spot, the outfield corners and first base. However, the struggles from the middle of the diamond players has prevented the offense from taking off.
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Coco Crisp (.251/.315/.361) has been the best of the group, followed by Jemile Weeks (.219/.304/.305) who has been mired in a season long sophomore slump, Cliff Pennington (.196/.262/.280) and the recently traded Kurt Suzuki (.218/.250/.286). Inge (.226/.283/.391) has had some big hits, but he's also struggled to replace the injured Scott Sizemore at the hot corner.
The A's are hoping that Crisp and Weeks hit closer to their career averages over the final two months of the season, which is a distinct possibility given their combination of speed and contact ability.
They tried unsuccessfully to upgrade the left side of the infield before the trade deadline, so they have no choice but to hope for more offense from Inge and Pennington going forward.
They were able to upgrade offensively at catcher with the acquisition of George Kottaras from the Brewers before the deadline. In 131 plate appearances this season, he's hit .212/.400/.374 with four home runs—showing off the combination of patience and power that the A's prefer.
Top catching prospect Derek Norris has struggled at the beginning of his big league career, but he profiles as the next Mike Napoli behind the dish—with plenty of power and patience as well.
If the A's are going to hang on in the playoff chase, they are going to have to get more consistent offensive production from Inge and their middle of the diamond players to bolster their outstanding pitching staff.
The A's combination of patience and power has prevented the offense from completely collapsing this season. However, they desperately need to raise the team batting average from an anemic .230 over the final months of the season if they hope to play meaningful games in October.
More base hits from Crisp and Weeks, the speedsters at the top of the line up, would significantly help in that regard.
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