Though only through 16 games of the 2013 season, the Oakland A's have stormed out to their best start since 1990 (12-4). That team ended up advancing to the World Series.
This year's A's has taken advantage of playing the Houston Astros six times, winning all six by a margin of 45-19. One of the axioms to being a great team is to beat the teams you are supposed to. So far, so good.
That said, there are more than just wins against a bottom feeder that have solidified the A's as a top-tier team. As a matter of fact, a couple of things this team has not done so well actually bode well for them going forward.
Sign One: The A's have have survived an awful start by Jarrod Parker
Thought by many to potentially ascend to ace status, Parker has been brutal through the spring and in his first two starts. An 0-2 record with a 10.80 ERA is bad for a college freshman, let alone a rising star. In spite of Parker's troubles, the A's starting ERA as a staff is still a respectable ninth at 4.47.
Assuming Parker has not completely disintegrated (which would mean the call up of Dan Straily), the A's will likely be fine over the course of the season in this department.
Sign Two: There may not be a deeper team in all of baseball
Already in the first 16 games, the A's have gone through stretches without their projected shortstop (Hiroyuki Nakajima), their MVP caliber left fielder (Yoenis Cespedes), their Gold Glove right fielder (Josh Reddick) and their clutch center fielder (Coco Crisp).
All they've done is get plus fielding in multiple spots from Chris Young and a red-hot Jed Lowrie, who is likely the shortstop for good. Lowrie has been a revelation, hitting .373 (good for fifth in the AL) with three home runs and 13 RBI (also good for fifth in the AL).
Losing Scott Sizemore has not slowed the team down as Eric Sogard's better-than-expected play has prevented second base from turning into a black hole. The team has also received contributions from reserves like Derek Norris and Nate Freiman.
In short, while there is some obvious drop-off, the quality of the bench is good enough to withstand injury. And that does not even factor in Adam Rosales, Nakajima, or even potential Sacramento call-ups like Jemile Weeks. By comparison, the AL West rivals Angels and Rangers simply do not have the ability to offset losses to players like Adrian Beltre, Albert Pujols or Mike Trout.
This depth has shown itself on the scoreboard. The A's have scored 96 runs, an average of six per game; that is easily the best in baseball. Consider the first 16 games of 2012: The A's had scored all of 47 runs and began 7-9. So while the pitching is still paramount, runs are not rare gems this April.
Sign Three: The A's bullpen is the best in the division, and maybe the league
Numbers never lie. Heading into Wednesday's game against the Astros, Oakland's bullpen ERA was 1.64, easily the best in the American League. That Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins and Sean Doolittle all have an ERA of 1.35 or lower is not a terrible surprise early on.
That Evan Scribner has an ERA of just 1.86 could be considered one. Because none of the A's starters consistently go deep into games, having the advantage after six or seven innings may make the difference as this season goes along.
As it stands now, there are not many better trios in the late innings than Cook, Doolittle and closer Grant Balfour. If the A's get into a battle of bullpens, they will win their fair share. The pen has already won three games and kept the A's in position to win the team's first walk-off April 12th against Detroit.
The good news is that the A's have depth, both with their lineup and with their pitching. Currently, the only really bad news is that Cespedes will be on the disabled list for another 10-plus days. Well, that and the lack of any more Astros games in the immediate future. But considering the A's penchant for heating up in the second half, this hot start only lends credence to this team defending the AL West title.