4 Reasons the Oakland Athletics Are Headed for Best Season in Billy Beane Era
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
The 2013 season has the potential to be one of the most exciting seasons in Oakland Athletics history since Billy Beane took over as general manager.
Beane has led the A's since the 1998 season. The team has made playoffs six times in 15 years—a pretty impressive feat considering his budget. They've also won over 100 games twice.
Oakland may not hit the centennial mark this season, but it'll still go down as one of the best in recent memory.
First let's define "best."
In this case, the A's don't have to simply win 104 games (a would-be record under Beane) to make this the best season ever. It's not just about making the playoffs either. For this to be the "best" season, a few things have to take place at the same time: a winning record, a playoff berth, lots of fun and memorable performances. Going deeper into the postseason will help too.
You know, kind of like 2012, but better.
Here's four reasons they are on their way.
All statistics provided by Baseball-reference.com.
No. 1: Momentum and a Great Start
Winning in April isn't a familiar feeling.
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Carrying the momentum from last year's finish, the Oakland Athletics are doing something they don’t normally do—start the season with a winning record in April.
It feels like the A's are a second-half team usually.
Take last season for example. They finished April and May under .500. June saw better numbers, then the team caught fire in July. Look into the past a bit further, and you'll see they haven't finished April above .500 since 2008. If they have a winning record at the end of April, it'll be only the fourth time in the Beane era.
So is winning in April indicative of success? No.
But coming from behind forces the team to play catch up. Perhaps that kind of stress helps them perform, and it’s certainly exciting for fans. However, getting out ahead of the competition never hurts.
Sure, the Texas Rangers proved last season that it only matters who’s in first place on day 162.
But if Oakland can start fast, maintain consistency in the middle and again nail down a scorching finish, this season will see an amazing end result. The A’s won 94 games last year with a losing record in the first two months. Wins near or over 100 aren’t impossible thanks in large part to a great April.
Even more early signs: The team won in April without Yoenis Cespedes; Jed Lowrie's .336 average; Jarrod Parker has nowhere to go but up.
No. 2: Consistency
Nothing's changed here, these two are still expected to be top producers.
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Many chalked 2012 up as magic. An Oakland squad full of mostly no-namers wasn’t supposed to succeed, and yet they shocked many by winning the AL West.
The team finished in fantastic fashion and pushed the AL champion Detroit Tigers to five games in the ALDS.
This year, there’s no “starting over.” Instead, they’ve picked up right where they’ve left off.
Even more important, the heart of the squad is still intact. The power in the middle of the lineup and the young rotation return with a year of big league and playoff experience under their belts. They know how to effectively win ballgames. And they’re led by AL Manager of the Year Bob Melvin for another go. That certainly won't hurt.
The way they play the game has not changed.
The A’s carry the momentum from last season into a new year, with the same faces, the same strengths and answers to some of their biggest weaknesses (i.e. shortstop, depth).
They’re no longer a surprise team. This team is built for success now.
Even more consistency-related signs: No dip in Bartolo Colon's production; League-leading runs scored and RBI (in line with last season's offensive production); Competitive against big market teams.
No. 3: A Very Well-Rounded Team
Jed Lowrie and Chris Young serve as upgrades and depth.
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Sometimes you can get by with an offensive powerhouse that lacks pitching. Hit enough home runs and produce enough runs, and you’ll overcome shoddy pitching.
Then there’s the opposite.
A dominant pitching staff can mask a poor offense. Take the 2012 A’s for example. The lineup hit .238—third-lowest in the league—but pitching kept Oakland in games throughout the season. Minimal or oftentimes late runs were enough to win games.
The good news is, this year the Athletics are well-rounded.
The rotation is a mix of veterans like Bartolo Colon and Brett Anderson with young talent like Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker. Dan Straily waits in the wings for added depth. The bullpen contains a solid closer in Grant Balfour, All-Star setup man Ryan Cook and other talented arms such as Jerry Blevins, Pat Neshek and Sean Doolittle.
Every one of those names above pitched in Oakland last season.
The offense boasts the power bats of Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick. Coco Crisp and Chris Young add speed. Another four out of five are returners. Add Seth Smith and that's five out of six.
The offseason additions upgraded the offense and contributed depth.
Jed Lowrie is hitting .366 with 14 RBI in 22 games. The A’s haven’t seen production out of shortstop for quite some time.
But if a team has no depth, injuries can chuck postseason aspirations in the waste bin.
Luckily, Oakland focused on this area as well. Entering 2013, the A’s had eight options at infield and five for the outfield. Questions arose about playing time, but due to early injuries, the additions have come in handy.
They can pitch. They can hit. They can overcome injury.
That is a clear recipe for year-long success.
Even more well-rounded stats: Oakland in the top 10 in home runs, team batting average, quality starts by a pitcher and bullpen ERA.
No. 4: The Culmination of Billy Beane's Work
It took a dozen years, but this might be "the one."
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The team you see on the field today is a culmination of Billy Beane’s entire era. Through trades, saved money here, spent money there and farm league development, the A’s have arrived to compete deeper into the postseason.
It’s no flash in the pan. It’s not a purchased World Series ring. Rather, it’s a decade of hard work coming into fruition.
The movie "Moneyball" highlighted Beane's eye for diamonds in the rough—others' discards or players who can produce on the cheap.
That eye landed guys like Brandon Moss, Seth Smith, Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie.
Then there's his sometimes head-scratching trades.
Trades that broke hearts in the past put Oakland where they are today. Back in 2008, the A's shipped fan-favorite Nick Swisher to the Chicago White Sox for Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney. Sweeney was sent with Andrew Bailey to Boston for Josh Reddick. Gonzalez turned into Derek Norris, Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock. Peacock became part of a package for Jed Lowrie.
So, essentially, Swisher for Reddick, Norris, Milone and Lowrie. Savvy?
Summarizing more long timelines, the A's received Josh Donaldson for Rich Harden and Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook for Trevor Cahill.
Seven key players at the cost of three. And all the money left over? That turned into Yoenis Cespedes.
Six times in 15 years the A's have made playoffs. Five times they've lost in Game 5 of the ALDS. The one time they made it further, they were swept out of the ALCS.
Yet this team is different. It has taken a decade to construct, but this squad is built for success right now. They've got offense, defense, coaching, consistency, heart, momentum, experience and talent.
Get ready for a fun run.