The Oakland Athletics are just a half game back in the wild-card standings, but if they want to secure a postseason spot and stay longer than the first round, they'll need key guys to step up, rivals to falter and even a little luck along the way.
The A's have shocked many.
No one truly expected this team to be in the thick of playoff contention deep into August.
In order to prove their wonderful July stretch of 19-5 wasn't a fluke, the A's will need to keep playing quality baseball and finish the season strong enough to earn a wild-card spot.
It can be done. They just need a lot of help.
Furthermore, this team has the potential to go deep into playoffs. The A's made playoffs four years in a row (2000-03), only to be defeated in the first round each time. In 2006 when they finally made it to the American League Championship Series, they were swept.
It's time to go farther.
These are the things that need to be done for the A's to get into playoffs, and then win some more.
Trainers visit with Yoenis Cespedes after he tweaks a hamstring
Baseball-reference.com lists the players who have played each position the most as the "starting lineup" whether they truly are starters or not.
Yoenis Cespedes is the starting center fielder.
Yet, he's missed enough action that Baseball-reference.com lists him as a utility player. Jonny Gomes has played in 10 less games than Cespedes, and he's a bench player.
Cespedes is hitting .306 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI. His WAR (wins above replacement) is 1.5, meaning he's worth almost two wins over the guy who replaces him when he's injured.
The team can't afford to miss this kind of production—especially not in a tight race.
Cliff Pennington (right) high fives Brandon Inge who returns to the dugout after scoring.
Coco Crisp, Seth Smith, Brandon Inge and Cliff Pennington aren't rookies anymore.
As veterans of the game, there's no excuse for hitting under .235.
Crisp is (finally) hitting .246, but as the highest profile name of the bunch listed above, he still needs to hit better. Crisp is a threat on the bases with his speed and needs to be on base for those behind him.
As the designated hitter—the best hitter left over after the best defensive players take the field—Smith is hitting .237. That's not great for a guy who makes his paycheck only hitting.
Inge and Pennington have been hurt this season. Both men are also known more for their glove work. Still, .224 (Inge) and .197 (Pennington) are flat out awful.
All four need to step up.
Chris Carter takes a home run trot.
Holy smokes, has Chris Carter finally found it or what?
After hitting .136 last year, Carter's batting average in 2012 is .274 with 10 home runs and 23 RBI in just 37 games.
He's only been with the big league club for just over a month, but he's hitting the ball hard all over the field.
Production from first base is something the Oakland Athletics have been lacking for some time.
He found it—now's not the time to lose it.
2012 has not been Jemile Weeks' year.
Jemile Weeks played in 93 games last season. He acquired 123 hits, 26 doubles, eight triples, 22 stolen bases and a batting average of .303.
His wins above replacement was 1.5.
In 111 games so far this year, he has 94 hits. That's 18 more games and 29 less hits.
Weeks has half the doubles and half the RBI. He has less stolen bases and his batting average is .219—almost 100 points less.
His WAR this year is -0.8.
The second baseman of the future is worse than a replacement?
That has to change.
Josh Donaldson fills in for Brandon Inge
With an offense already lacking firepower, it's important for the Oakland Athletics' bench players to fill in as well as possible.
That's a given.
Every bench player wants to play well enough to earn a starting role.
But when Brandon Inge—hitting .224 as it is—goes down with an injury, Eric Sogard and Josh Donaldson hurt the team terribly if they hit any lower.
Jonny Gomes has been amazing.
Off the bench, he hits .257 with 14 home runs and 35 RBI. That's more than expected from a role player.
They're backups for a reason. No one expects them to deliver like Gomes. But somewhere in between his production and Sogard's would be good enough short term.
In the first half of the season, a nobody named Ryan Cook earned All-Star honors.
He did it by keeping opposing batters to a .105 batting average, maintaining a 1.41 ERA and allowing only six runs total.
Since then, his ERA has ballooned to 6.00, opposing batters are hitting .333 and he's given up nine earned runs.
Cook is the closer so saving games is important.
He blew three saves in the first half and four so far in the second half.
Cook needs to regain his composure and pitch like an All-Star.
Can Sean Doolittle be the guy?
Collectively, the Oakland Athletics bullpen is in the top 10 for ERA and wins.
Grant Balfour is pitching well and though Ryan Cook isn't quite the All-Star he began the season as, he's still easily the second-best pitcher on the team.
Pat Neshek and Evan Scribner are two young arms that seem to have potential as well.
But manager Bob Melvin can't rely on just Balfour and Cook the rest of the year. Neshek and Scribner need more time to adjust and may battle nerves come playoffs.
Jerry Belvins or Sean Doolittle must pick it up to provide additional quality relief.
A World Series-caliber bullpen is one with numerous, equally-talented options.
The Oakland Athletics starting rotation has pitched considerably well. Bartolo Colon has found the fountain of youth while young players like Jarrod Parker and Tom Milone dazzle.
Brandon McCarthy is the ace of the staff, consistently pitching quality games.
Even spot starters A.J. Griffin and Travis Blackley have produced.
The A's have a good thing going.
So when Brett Anderson returns soon, who's spot is he taking and how far down the line will everyone be bumped?
His return must be worth altering the rotation.
It's the same thing as bringing in a bat at the trade deadline. The new guy is going to take someone's spot on the field and affect the entire lineup.
The prayer then, is that he's worth the potential break up of cohesion.
To make matters worse (for the A's), September looks rough.
The month begins against the Boston Red Sox—still in the hunt and with plenty to prove. There's also a total of seven games against the Angels that will be the largest determining factor of Oakland's playoff hopes.
September is no picnic.
The Oakland Athletics are a scrappy, young team that continually finds ways to win.
So far, they've come from behind 31 times and won by walk-off 13 times.
It takes a lot of heart and a little bit of luck to overcome being down. Yet, the A's keep doing it.
Down the stretch, this attitude must continue.
You lose 100 percent of the games you give up on. Clearly, there's a chance to win even if you're down.
Can they both be out?
This is where the Oakland Athletics will require assistance and luck.
Their September schedule is rough, mostly because they have 11 games with the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels.
The easiest way for the A's to win is if these two teams cool down.
See what I mean about needing luck?
In the last seven days, the Angels have six players hitting over .290, including Albert Pujols (.320 BA, 4 HR) and Mike Trout (.370 BA, 3 HR).
The Angels' starters, though, have been hit all over the yard lately.
Neither Dan Haren nor Jered Weaver made it past four innings in their last starts. CJ Wilson sports a loss, a no decision and a 7-plus ERA in two starts.
The A's have to take advantage.
Every big name outside of Josh Hamilton is producing for the Rangers right now.
Like the Angels, though, the pitching staff hasn't been overwhelming in the last month.
Oakland has a fighting chance—if neither team heats up.
We want to see more of this.
The Oakland Raiders lived by one easy motto: "Just win, baby!"
The Oakland Athletics now have to do the same.
It's simple: Win, and you control your own postseason destiny. Win there, and you advance.
If the A's win and everyone else wins at the same time, Oakland goes to the playoffs. Fortunately, the teams they're playing are in contention for the same spot. So an A's win is a double bonus—one game up for them, one game down for opposing contenders.