The A's continue their improbable run to October
First things first: I am keenly aware that nothing is for certain here. Nothing has been settled for Oakland in terms of the postseason, so I know fully that I may end up falling on the sword if they happen to miss the playoffs.
Disclaimer stated, the truth is, I just don't see that happening. Two more road games before six at home to end the season leaves the A's in a good position to get into the 2012 postseason.
So, acting on my own personal faith that I'll see the A's in the playoffs, it is time to start assessing what they can do once they get in. And for Oakland, there is no greater secret weapon than the often ridiculed, always underappreciated Oakland Coliseum (sorry O.co, I just can't).
The A's have the eighth best home record in baseball and have as many home games remaining of any team in the top 10 with six.
What that means is, they still have a chance to impact where they play in the postseason at home. And ultimately, with the scheduling of the postseason, Oakland's chances are enhanced at home.
Don't believe me? Well here are 10 key advantages the A's have thanks to the Coliseum.
No place in Major League Baseball has the unique dimensions of the Coliseum.
First and foremost, that is due to the fact that it is the last remaining dual purpose stadium in baseball (shared of course, with the Oakland Raiders). The accommodation of the Raider end zones creates an expansive foul territory unlike any other.
How does that matter? Well, other than Jarrod Parker, no A's starter ranks in the top 20 in ground ball to fly ball ratio in the American League. In essence, the A's starters pitch to their park. So Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin, Travis Blackley, Brandon McCarthy and Tom Milone have benefited from the spacious dimensions the Coliseum offers.
When numbers are as compressed as many pitching stats are, a free out here or there makes all the difference. The park metrics don't hurt the A's nearly as much, because they strike out more than any team in baseball.Their offense is going to be feast or famine regardless.
But with the pitching, the extra space has proven to be quite the benefit in 2012.
When the ball stays in the yard, there's a chance you can stop the run from scoring
Like the Giants across the Bay, the A's have a distinct advantage when playing home games at night. That advantage would be the thick marine air that drifts in off of the San Francisco Bay. Like Safeco Field in Seattle or other parks near water, the air gets heavy at night.
As a result, the ball simply does not carry as well as it does during the day. For a team like Oakland that pitches to contact and has more than a few fly ball pitchers, this is no small advantage. Add to that the likeliness that many of the games will be played at night, and the Coliseum is of optimum benefit for the A's rotation.
The quirkiest fan base in the MLB is definitely in Oakland
Before this year, the most famous A's fans were probably the left field drummers who have banged away since June 2000. It's not a home game in Oakland with the "Let's Go Oakland!" chant beating throughout the Coliseum. But that was then...
And this is now. Suddenly, the hottest craze in the game is the crowd in the right field bleachers. Every night, they're doing a dance called the "Bernie". Based on the character from the first two Weekend At Bernie's movies, the dance caught on so much, actor Terry Kiser actually threw out the first pitch September 1st.
How is this part of a home field advantage? Well, because it has caught on with the A's themselves. From Coco Crisp playing the "Bernie Lean" song by Bay Area rappers ATM & IMD to members of the A's participating in a music video, the team has stayed loose and the Coliseum has become more festive during this improbable pennant chase. Since July 18, the A's have gone 20-10 at home.
As a result, games don't have a tight feel. When you're not expected to win, winning becomes that much more sweet. And the A's have been "leaning" towards October for three months (and counting).
The Cuban Missile launches more powerfully in Oakland
Offensively, it would seem as though the Coliseum would work against the A's. Well, not entirely so, especially in the case of rookie sensation Yoenis Cespedes. Although he has performed well both home and on the road, the Coliseum has been a showcase for his many skills.
Case in point: Cespedes is hitting .289 on the season with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs in 121 games played so far. That's a very good rookie season, but in Oakland, his numbers are even better, hitting .312 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs.
Cespedes has respectable splits of .270/.311/.472 on the road. At home, those splits shoot up to .312/.396/.517 in 2012. A healthy Cespedes at home has been a harbinger of success for the A's and could very well into October.
Though struggling, Reddick is still much better at home
Josh Reddick's September futility finally reached an apex with his benching against Texas on Tuesday night. Mired in a 12 for 91 September slump, Reddick's average has plummeted from .262 to .241 this month.
However, the one positive of all of this has been that Reddick's home numbers dwarf his road ones. Going into the Wednesday night matchup against Texas, Reddick's road splits were .231/.291/.421 in 2012. His OPS is .712 away from the Coliseum, which is patently average.
By contrast, his home splits look like this: .253/.319/.495 in 2012. That gives him an OPS of .814 in 2012 at home. So in the midst of by far the worst slump of his brief MLB career, Reddick is still a much more productive and dangerous player at home. Oakland has got to have that Reddick as opposed to the one who seems lost and anxious on the road.
Balfour has been lights out at the Coliseum
The A's bullpen has been rock solid throughout the 2012 season. Overall, they boast an ERA of 3.06, good for a tie with the Baltimore Orioles for second in the American League. But many of the key components have been that much better at home for the A's in relief.
It starts with closer Grant Balfour.
After losing his closer role to Brian Fuentes, Balfour has been mostly solid this year. At home though, the fiery Australian has been almost lights out. In 37.1 innings, Balfour has an ERA of 1.21 at home with a WHIP of .78 in both setup and closer appearances.
In Oakland, a good pitcher becomes one of baseball's best.
That refrain is repeated with other pitchers. Pat Neshek has an ERA of 1.53 on the year. His ERA in Oakland this year has been zero. Zero runs allowed in 9.2 innings with 11 strikeouts. Setup specialist Sean Doolittle has a good ERA of 3.21 overall. At home, it shrinks to 2.33 on the year.
Ultimately, the A's ability to win close games late earlier in the year was due in no small part to the fact that the bullpen kept zeroes on the board long enough to allow the offense to break through. That is a winning formula in October.
Out recently with pink eye, Crisp (far right) hopes to have opponents seeing red in October
All great teams have someone that provides a spark. Guys like Ian Kinsler, Derek Jeter, etc., give elite teams an instant threat at the top of the lineup. For the A's, that person is Coco Crisp. While he is not in the category of those two, Crisp has been a legitimate spark for Oakland at home in 2012.
Overall, Crisp has hit .251 with an on-base percentage of .318 this season. Pretty pedestrian numbers overall. At home though, Crisp's numbers spike.
His batting average jumps 20 points to .271 and his on-base percentage moves from .318 to .348 at the Coliseum. On the whole, he has been a necessity: The A's are 52-23 when Crisp is in the leadoff spot, and 35-44 with everyone else.
Those numbers are important three-fold: One, the more Crisp is on base, the more likely he is to steal a base (or two). In 2012, Crisp has 22 steals at home against 14 on the road.
But more importantly, being on base means a greater chance of being driven in by players like Cespedes and Reddick, who have both shown a greater capacity to hit at home.
Most importantly though, Crisp is the only A's regular with real postseason experience. As I mentioned in an earlier article, Crisp has raised his game in the postseason. A career .281 hitter in the postseason with a .349 on-base percentage, both those numbers represent upgrades over his regular season career numbers. The better Crisp is, the better the A's offense will be in the playoffs.
Swingers like Gomes are clearing the Coliseum fences
So far in 2012, the Oakland A's have hit 182 home runs, good for seventh in baseball. Of those, 84 have been hit at home in 75 games. So, while the team has been more prodigious with the long ball away from the Coliseum, there has still been plenty of long ball power in the East Bay.
However, the number three key isn't just Oakland's ability to hit the long ball at home. In those same 75 home games, the A's have allowed only 60 home runs, a plus-24 margin for their offense at home.
When you consider the A's have been outhit 608-585 and have an almost identical batting average (.233 vs.232 for opponents), the difference has been the A's ability to hit the long ball.
In order to win close games, you have to manufacture runs, but teams also need instant offense. Oakland's ability to hit home runs while keeping them in the yard has been in no small part a key to their 44-31 home record. As a matter of fact, if you took away the five walk-off home runs the A's have had in the 2012 season, they may very well be looking up at Baltimore or Los Angeles in the Wild Card standings.
The A's pitching is no joke when the lights come on
3.34. That is the A's ERA at night (both home and away). Only Tampa Bay has a better ERA at night in the American League (sensing a pattern here?). The playoffs are usually played in prime time, so matinees are rare in the Divisional Series, even rarer in the League Championship Series and non-existant in the World Series.
By comparison, the Yankees have a 3.88 night ERA. Texas comes in at 3.91. Detroit follows them at 3.95. Playoff contenders Baltimore and Chicago bring up the rear of would-be playoff entrants with ERA's of 4.06 and 4.23 respectively.
The meaning of this is simple: Some teams have taken advantage of earlier starts and the factors of getaway games, lack of rest, etc., but it does add up over a 162-game season. The playoffs are about consistency and the A's have demonstrated that ability over the long haul. The stats show up again and again. So does the record (currently 87-67, their best in six years).
The ability to keep games close under the lights feeds into the other stats (i.e. better production by key players, power discrepancy against opponents, etc.). And since most games will be played at night, being able to shake off cooler weather and later starts is just another in a list of little things that leads to a big result.
Parker has re-emerged over his last four starts
Yes, the A's have players that can swing the bat. Eight players have hit at least 10 home runs, the first time Oakland has done that since 2004. They have speed, power, and just enough defense to keep them in games.
But the truth is, the Coliseum is a great home field for the A's because they can pitch.
Bar none, this is one of the best staffs in the game. At home, they are even better, posting an overall ERA of 3.10, good for third in the American League behind Tampa Bay and Seattle.
Even more than the bullpen players already discussed, this has been handy for the A's starters. Already one of the best units in the game in spite of key losses, the current rotation has been better at the Coliseum.
For example, Jarrod Parker has an impressive ERA of 3.40 for the A's. In the Coliseum, his ERA is a sparkling 2.49 on the year. Tom Milone has been over a full run better in Oakland, posting a 2.68 ERA vs. 3.74 overall. Most notably, before his regular season-ending injury, Brett Anderson had a brilliant 1.38 ERA at home, with a 2.57 ERA overall.
The A's starters have to keep scores close to give its offense a chance. For much of 2012, that has been the case. Going into the postseason, an improved offense gives them that much more leeway to pitch freely knowing runs can be scored. But it has been on their capable arms that much of this magic has happened. And the A's will only go as far as those arms continue to pitch them.
Hitting, pitching, managing: It's been a team effort in 2012
There you have it. A mere eight games to the postseason, but never too early to start the speculation. Oakland has outpaced everyone's expectations, so there's nothing to suggest anything else other than more success to finish the year.
Many elements come in to play in order to make a team a winner. You can't just rely on any one component. For the 2012 A's, winning has been a matter of making the game fun. Vets like Coco and Jonny have enabled youngsters like Josh and Yoenis to play their games. Fans dancing and pitchers getting outs, it's all a part of the formula.
But as Billy Beane famously stated, "My job is to get us to the playoffs. Everything after that is f****** luck."
Whether or not that's entirely true is up for debate. What isn't is that the A's have a home field advantage this year. It has been a formula that has them on the brink of their first playoff berth since 2006. Keeping it going, well that is when we'll see if the luck Beane so famously made the playoffs out to be has finally put on green and gold.