Comparing the 2012 Athletics' Wild Comeback to the 'Moneyball' Season
It's official. The best story in the Major Leagues in 2012 has a happy regular season ending. The A's, in a game very much symbolic of their entire year, shook off a slow start to blister the Texas Rangers 12-5, completing a remarkable comeback to win the AL West title in front of a joyous Oakland Coliseum crowd.
You know, it still really doesn't seem that long ago that the 2002 A's (aka Team Moneyball) rode an amazing, historic hot streak to win the division and enter the playoffs in much the same fashion. For all of the stars that team had (Hudson, Mulder, Zito, AL MVP Miguel Tejada, Chavez, etc.), there were plenty of role players that delivered in big moments.
And guess what? In the biggest game of the year, the key plays were made by A's role players like Evan Scribner (2.2 scoreless innings of relief to keep the game close) and catcher Derek Norris. I write for a living, but even I don't have the words for this. It is simply amazing. So before we start preparing for a preview of the ALDS against either a very dangerous Detroit team or the wild card survivor, let's step back in time for a bit.
Yes, I think to fully appreciate this team in a larger context, you have to understand the genesis of this type of run actually started over a decade ago. People still knock Billy Beane for not winning a World Series when teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City would love to sniff .500, let alone the playoffs a half dozen times since 2000. The more things change, well, you know the rest. Let's look back at the 2002 A's and see just how much they compare to this amazing 2012 team.
#3: Power Solves Everything
Historically, the A's have never been a team that hits for a high average. This year's team labored near the Mendoza Line at the end of May and wound up hitting .235 on the year. But the greatest deodorant for a team without many .300 hitters is a team that can hit home runs.
Seems simple enough right?
Except the A's hadn't done it much in the last four years. Even after 61 games this year, this team was on pace to hit around 140 home runs. Then, the team added Brandon Moss and Chris Carter, and Yoenis Cespedes got healthy.
A team that was basically Josh Reddick and fumes suddenly became the Bash Brothers redux. Over 140 home runs in the last 101 games was a recipe for success.
All told, there have been eight players with at least 10 home runs. While the notables have been Reddick, Moss and Cespedes—Coco Crisp, Carter, and Seth Smith have combined for 41 home runs in their own right.
How does that compare to the 2002 A's? Well, that club finished its last 54 games at an incredible 42-12. The offense was sparked by 73 home runs, including 33 in September as the team hit .241 for the month. The point is, both teams used the long ball to more than make up for the fact they didn't always play station-to-station baseball.
We remember Tejada and Chavez, but Jermaine Dye had 24 home runs and Terrence Long, Dave Justice and Scott Hatteberg combined for 42 home runs on that powerful squad.
For the A's to advance deep in this year's playoffs (feels awesome just to say that), the power must stay in Oakland.
#2: Timing Is Everything
Back in 2002, the A's began the month of June with a 25-28 record. They would go 78-31 the remainder of the year, best in baseball. Flash forward 10 years later and the A's were 26-35 on June 10th. From that point, they would go 68-33, the best in baseball this year.
The one thing that was consistent about the four years of the early 2000s for the A's was their propensity to get hot in the summer months. This year's A's team rode the team record 19-5 wave all the way through August, September and the first three games of October to win the AL West. Remarkably, this was done largely without two of the team's best starters: Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon.
Finishing this run by going six-for-six at home is the mark of a true champion. Oakland did the opposite of backing in. Like the 2002 team that had to fight off eventual world champion Anaheim, the A's had to win when it counted. As the baseball world prepped for a September collapse, the A's had to fight through the best in the league (New York, Texas and Detroit)—all the A's did was go 17-11 and then 3-0 against Texas to capture the flag. Not bad at all.
#1: Pitching, Pitching, Pitching
When it all gets added up, the biggest numbers are one and two. In 2002, the A's posted a team ERA of 3.68, good for first in the American League. Ten years later, the 2012 A's had an even better Team ERA of 3.49, but that was good only for second (to the Tampa Bay Rays). However, like the 2002 A's, these A's will have the best ERA of any team in the AL playoffs.
For all of the power and flair for the dramatic, both of these teams were solid because they had great pitching. The Big Three of Hudson, Mulder and Zito combined for 57 wins with Zito winning his only Cy Young Award.
By contrast, no A's starter won more than 13 games in 2012. But six won at least six and none of those had an ERA higher than 3.86. To win 14 walk-off games, you have to have a staff that puts up zeroes long enough to allow you to score.
Bar none, the A's have the best bullpen in the American League right now.
You could even go so far as to say the A's real big three is in its bullpen: Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour. Each has been absolutely filthy down the stretch with Cook and Balfour pitching the last five games of the year. The rest that comes with winning the division title is critical at this point, though you wouldn't have known it against Texas.
If there is one area A's fans will hope these teams are not similar in, it will be playoff performance. The story was great in 2002, but it ended with a bitter 5-4 defeat at home against, frankly, an inferior Minnesota Twins team. This time around, there doesn't look to be any teams like that in the American League.
Even as the Rangers have struggled, they remain a team capable of flipping a switch offensively. But it doesn't appear the A's will see them until the ALCS, if both teams make it there. With the Yankees ahead comfortably against a Boston team that looks ready for the plane ride back to New England (at the time of this report), Oakland's first-round opponent seems set.
That's a team I think is the single-most dangerous in a five-game series: the Detroit Tigers. The A's were hammered in the first two games at Comerica Park in September before salvaging the finale. The specter of facing Justin Verlander twice in a five-game series and having to try avoiding an 0-2 hole coming back to the Coliseum is daunting.
All that said, it seems like just another hurdle this team has to get over.
Down 13 games in the standings as June ended? No problem!
Down five with just 10 games to play? No problem!
Need a sweep over the two time American League champions to win the division? No problem!
So why should the potential AL Cy Young and MVP winning two at their place to start be any different? At this point, I'm hard-pressed to give you an answer.
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