The Oakland A’s beat the Texas Rangers 12-5 on Wednesday, sweeping the series and clinching the American League West title in the process.
The A’s, with a pieced together team of rookies, recent call-ups and unproven veterans, did the impossible; though if you’ve followed the A’s from the All-Star break, the playoff spot is surprising but totally explainable. Sort of.
By winning their first division title in six years, the pesky A’s went from a Cinderella story just trying to make the brand-new second AL wild-card playoff spot to a team chasing down the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers.
The Athletics are the first team in history to win their division outright by overcoming a five-game deficit with only nine games left on the schedule.
On June 30, the outlook in Oakland wasn’t this bright. The A's were a dismal 37-42, 13 games back in the division and six back of the second wild-card spot. In June, the A’s were dead last in the Majors in RBI, hits, bases taken and batting average.
The A’s were done. Except they weren’t.
The A's have the best record in the Majors since June 2—the date they finally ended their nine-game losing streak and were eight games below .500.
Building teams from scratch seems to be Beane’s strong suit.
The A’s play “Moneyball,” also known as sabermetrics, which is a method of analyzing talent and using statistics and data to evaluate players that other teams may miss.
Beane was the first to integrate the method into MLB, and the story of his journey to “change the game” was immortalized in the book "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis. The book was later made into a film of the same name, starring Brad Pitt.
The A’s started this trend, but haven’t been able to make it work to their full advantage—i.e. winning the World Series.
The numbers matter, and the A’s have run their business that way. However, it has taken a core group of like-minded players and a manager like Bob Melvin, who understands how to put the plan into action, to win big.
The A’s have the second lowest payroll in the league, $55 Million, which is the equivalent of three players on the Yankees and almost half of the Texas Rangers’ $120.5 million payroll.
“This has been my most enjoyable year as GM,” said Beane.
Post All-Star break, the A’s have been insanely resilient, posting a 49-25 record.
They have 14 walk-off wins and are 11-5 in extra innings. The A’s also lead the league in the second half of the season in home runs with 111, are second in RBI with 365 and have the fifth most walks in the league—and they have done all this with a team of basically nobodies.
The average age the A's roster is 27 years old. They also used 19 rookies this season, which is the most in the American League and second most in A’s history.
During the offseason, the A’s traded away their three best pitchers: Trevor Cahill to Arizona, NL Cy Young Award candidate and 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez to Washington and All-Star closer Andrew Bailey to Boston.
Still, the pitching staff managed to rank sixth in ERA and first in wins during the second half of the season. There must be something in the water in Oakland.
The A's used 12 rookie pitchers, and every member of their current five-pitcher rotation is a rookie.
They also used closer Grant Balfour, who didn’t have more than four saves in a season before this year, but has 24 this season. The A's are also the first team to make the playoffs with as many as 70 starts from rookie pitchers.
Their two stalwart veteran arms, Bartolo Colon and Brandon McCarthy, were lost due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension and a disturbing line-drive head injury in late August, respectively.
All of these aforementioned numbers fit nicely with the Moneyball ideal, but eventually the numbers can only go so far. It must come down to the players chosen and their ability to play together.
“It’s a selfless group that was just in it to win,” Melvin said. “The unselfishness of the team, for the team, is the thing I’m the most impressed by.”
Team chemistry is a major element of playing baseball in general, and it’s completely necessary to win big. The A’s are loose and having fun, and they are winning while doing it.
The key to winning in the playoffs in American professional sports is to get hot at the right time.
The LA Kings, New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals all barely made it into the playoffs but used their momentum, team chemistry and “us-against-the-world” mentality to their advantage while winning their respective championships.
The A’s have been playing with a playoff mentality for weeks.
However, let's not compare the A’s to a March Madness Cinderella story.
“You don’t play 162 games as a Cinderella, you don’t get lucky this late in the season,” said Beane.
Whether it’s luck, skill or just a bunch of crazy West-Coast baseball players under the shrewd management of Bob Melvin, the Oakland Athletics are the most fun story in baseball this season. There’s still room on the bandwagon. Hop on.
The A’s begin their World Series run on Saturday in a best-of-five series against the Detroit Tigers.