Oakland Athletics: Are the A's the Most Dangerous Team in the AL Playoffs?
In Major League Baseball’s first season with a designed one-game playoff, the excitement that this decision was designed to create has not disappointed. Entering the final game of the 2012 regular season, just a single game separates the Yankees, Rangers, Orioles and Athletics in a season where seeding is the difference between earning a one-game bye or playing an extra playoff game.
In one day, the Oakland Athletics could theoretically go from sixth place in the American League and playing on the road in a single-elimination series, to second place; avoiding the bye and sending Texas to the Wild Card round.
That said, this begs the question, are the Athletics the most dangerous team in the AL playoffs?
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When looking at the improbable body of work the A’s have put together over the last six months, it is difficult to figure just how they have managed one of the best records in baseball. Even over this past offseason it seemed that the Oakland front office was gearing up for a bridge year, trading top-tier starter Gio Gonzalez to Washington and closer Andrew Bailey to Boston.
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Regardless of their successes this season, it remains a mystery as to what has catalyzed these victories. Offensively, the Athletics are nearly last in the league with a .238 team average (league worst Seattle is batting .233) and middle of the pack in total runs scored. The epitome of this production has been sophomore major leaguer Josh Reddick, who has knocked a career best 32 homeruns while only batting .244 otherwise.
However, much like their Moneyball predecessors, what this Athletics team lacks in power, they make up for in small ball.
Oakland has earned the fifth most walks this season, and when they get on base, they stay on base. A’s baserunners have stolen 122 bags and have only been caught stealing 31 times in 2012.
Well-Rounded Pitching Staff
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Oakland’s low run production has not been a huge problem for a pitching staff that is among the league’s best in runs allowed and has subsequently posted the sixth best ERA. Such dominance is a testament to pitching coach Curt Young, who was fired by the Boston Red Sox in the wake of their 2011 September collapse.
However, aside from Oakland’s starters—only three of whom have broken double-digit win totals—the A’s bullpen has had perhaps the biggest impact, winning 29 games with a 2.99 ERA, which is most likely the result of Oakland’s league-leading 14 walk-off victories this year.
How Can They Win in the Playoffs?
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Regardless, all of this production only helped to get Oakland to the playoffs; winning will be a much more difficult task. If they should have to go a single-elimination playoff, it looks as though Tommy Milone, who last pitched September 28 and has posted a 1.69 ERA over his last two starts, would be in line for the start.
Though teams are obviously going to play to avoid the one-game playoff, Oakland seems better suited to win in one game than do the Orioles, whom the A’s are currently slated to meet up with on Friday. In addition, not only Milone is suited for the lone playoff start as Jarrod Parker has matched Milone in wins and nearly in ERA as well, and rookie prodigy AJ Griffin has only one loss since his MLB debut at the end of June.
Should they reach a playoff series, either by winning the ALWC or by leapfrogging the Texas Rangers, Oakland seems to have the core, three-man rotation which is necessary to win in the playoffs.
A's Will Look to Win the Old Fashioned Way
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This Athletics team had fans and media personalities alike questioning their legitimacy as an October contender for the better part of this summer, but the fact that they are so unexpected is one reason why they could go deep in the playoffs.
As the Yankees and Rangers claw for playoff seeds that they could have otherwise locked up weeks before, Oakland has made it difficult for them to do so by getting hot at the right time. Certainly the 2002 Moneyball Athletics proved that regular season success does not necessarily translate to the postseason, but their 2012 successors will look to do just that.