With their dramatic, 5-4, win over the Texas Rangers on Monday night, the Oakland A’s clinched a spot in the 2012 postseason. But now, after back-to-back wins, the two teams are tied atop the American League West with a 93-68 overall record.
So, while both teams’ playoff tickets have already been punched, the A’s enter the final regular-season game with a chance to win the West and avoid the dreaded wild-card play-in game.
Over the course of the season, the team’s success has been a product of a consistent and inspired state of play. While players such as Miguel Cabrera almost single-handedly led his team to the postseason, the A’s have relied upon timely contributions from essentially every player.
So, as they prepare for a currently undetermined playoff experience, I thought that I’d highlight some of the key performances this season.
These five players have piqued my interest all season and (spoiler) do not include: Tommy Milone (1.4 WAR), Ryan Cook (2.5 WAR), A.J. Griffin (2.5 WAR), Dan Straily (0.4 WAR), Travis Blackley (0.9 WAR) and Chris Carter (0.9 WAR).
Headed into the 2013 season, Cespedes was regarded as a wild card. Sure he posted tremendous numbers in a Cuban league and starred in the highest-grossing cinematic event of the year, but how would he adjust to big league pitching?
More specifically, as a max-effort, front-foot hitter, how would he adjust to the caliber of offspeed pitches?
Well, the 26-year-old import has hit in the heart of the A’s order all season, often times carrying the team on his back. Arguably the team’s top catalyst, the A’s are 80-47 in the 127 games he’s played. In those wins, the right-handed hitter is batting .311/.371/.557 with 39 extra-base hits and 62 RBI.
Cespedes is the type of hitter that—despite his free-swinging nature—is able to zero-in and thrive with the game on the line. For example, he’s excelled with runners in scoring position, batting .339/.421/.536 with 54 RBI in 133 plate appearances.
Donaldson struggled at the plate for the first half of the season, bouncing between the major leagues and Triple-A on two separate occasions before finally catching fire after he was recalled for a third time on August 14.
Since then the 26-year-old has been one of the A’s many unsung heroes, batting .286/.355/.494 with 11 home runs and 26 RBI in 45 games.
Furthermore, Donald’s defense has been excellent and he certainly doesn’t mind showing off his strong arm. Having played 69 games at the hot corner, he has already saved four runs (via Baseball Reference).
Although Norris’ bat hasn’t lived up to expectations, the 23-year-old catcher has still come up with his share of clutch hits—hasn’t every player on this team?—since making his big league debut on June 21.
At the dish, he’s batting .192/.270/.330 with six home runs, 31 RBI and 65/21 K/BB in 58 games. Luckily, his aggressive defense has been a game-changer at times as he’s thrown out 26-percent of basestealers.
It’s also important to remember that given the young ages of the A’s starting pitchers, there’s a sense familiarity with Norris, who has worked with nearly all of them over the last two minor league seasons.
With fewer than six innings on his big league resume headed into the 2012 season, Parker, 23, has quietly anchored a historically young starting rotation. The right-hander has been consistent with working down in the zone and utilizing the spacious environment of his new home ballpark.
After struggling through most of July (5.34 ERA) and August (4.71 ERA), the right-hander has been nothing but consistent in six starts since Sept. 1: 4-1, 41 IP, 2.63 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 33/8 K/BB.
At this point, Parker is their big-game pitcher. He’s taken the mound with confidence over the last month and exceeded all expectations. If the A’s find themselves in the wild-card play-in game, then Parker should be their guy.
Selected by the A’s in the first round of the 2007 draft, there were high hopes that Doolittle would be the team’s next power-hitting first baseman. And after batting .286/.358/.495 with 22 home runs and 91 RBI between High-A and Double-A in 2008, the 21-year-old’s arrival in the major leagues was seemingly one year away.
Unfortunately, injuries limited Doolittle to only 28 games in 2009, and a pair of knee surgeries ultimately cost him the entire 2010 season. With the hope of being added to the team’s 40-man roster, he returned to the mound in the fall of 2011—where he once had an equally promising career.
The left-hander made the transition effortlessly, almost as if it was his calling the entire time. And in is first professional season as a pitcher, Doolittle has gone from a shot-in-the-dark experiment to vital member of the team’s bullpen. He’s filled a niche as a left-handed specialist, though he’s also proven to be highly effective against right-handed hitters.
Since breezing through the minor leagues and making his big league debut on June 5, Doolittle has posted a 3.18 ERA, 11.5 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 in 49 appearances.
With a fastball that averages 94.3 mph with explosive, late life, he throws it frequently (86 percent of his pitches are fastballs) and challenges hitters; he’ll elevate it enough to the point where it looks tempting but ultimately draws whiffs or weak outs.
While Ryan Cook may capture most of the headlines with 14 saves, a 2.3 WAR and All-Star appearance, Doolittle’s performance this season has flown under the radar. However, the A’s would not be where they are without him.