10 Signs the Oakland Athletics Are Destined to Reach the Playoffs
Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
Consult your crystal ball, the local psychic or a Ouija board and they'll all tell you the same—the Oakland Athletics are headed for their second consecutive postseason.
How can you not see the signs? They're aplenty.
From the playoff format to the schedule, the talent to a little bit of luck, the A's should have no problem making playoffs. They did it last season. Oakland earned the AL West title, taking all 162 games to do so. One month in, they've started 2013 off much better than last year.
Only one sign is missing: evidence of a slow down.
Let's take a look at the 10 indications this team will be playing baseball in October yet again.
No. 10: The Second Wild-Card Spot
Division champs would be better, but the A's should be happy even as a wildcard.
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Last season, the first to see an expanded playoff format, the newly created wild-card spot helped the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles get into the postseason with 93 wins. The St. Louis Cardinals won 88 and still earned the second wild-card berth.
The Oakland A's won 94 games last year, good enough for first place in the AL West.
As of right now, they're on pace for 91 wins. That may be good enough as it is to earn a playoff spot. Still, picking up even three additional wins puts the team in a great position to return to October baseball whether as division champions or wild-card contenders.
No. 9: You Can't Buy the Heart They Have
The newest post-homerun ritual involveds a playful tunnel.
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Many a team has attempted to purchase wins (the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays and both Los Angeles teams). Yet a funny thing happens; the money doesn't buy heart or chemistry.
Heart can go a long way toward winning.
Just look at what the A's did last year. Or even the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards snuck in with 88 wins. Then they knocked out the Atlanta Braves. The scrappy birds defeated the No. 1 seed Washington Nationals next, after being down six runs in Game 5. That same game featured four runs in the top of the ninth to upset the Nats.
Finally, they took the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants to the brink, forcing seven games in the NLCS.
The point is, with leadership, team chemistry and heart, anything can be done. And if you follow this team any, there's no doubting the amount of fight in this squad.
No. 8: A Winning April Record
Beating the Angels early is a must.
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As I previously wrote in an April 26 article, the Oakland A's finished April above .500 for the first time since 2008 and only the fourth time since Billy Beane became general manager.
A record of 16-12 isn't overwhelming, but they won the month. Winning the first month of the season is a great start.
One down, five to go.
In the slide prior, I mentioned the A's were on pace for 91 wins at their current winning percentage. However, if you take away May and project a record based on April alone, the figure becomes more like 93 wins. If they win 16 games a month, that's 96 wins.
Either way, you can't be mad at starting off on the right foot. There's no hole to dig out of. Rather, there's a hill to defend.
No. 7: The Rest of the Schedule
More Astros? Yes, please.
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Looking at the rest of the schedule, A's fans should be excited.
May appears to be doable for Oakland. They've already taken a series against the New York Yankees. Next up they have the Cleveland Indians (15-14) and Seattle Mariners (15-18). Then they'll get into a stretch against a few tough opponents including the Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants. Luckily, they'll also get three against the Houston Astros toward the end.
June is somewhat similar, and July looks a bit more manageable.
There's no other way to say it, August will be rough.
If they can manage to maintain through July and survive August, September will come as a fantastic breath of fresh air. The Athletics will get the Astros four times. Then they'll play the Minnesota Twins seven times and the Mariners three times to cap off the season.
A good start and a great finish. Both help tremendously.
No. 6: Competing with the AL West
Competitive with the top and better than the bottom.
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We just looked at the schedule, now let's take a deeper look at the AL West competition.
The Texas Rangers have one of the best records in baseball right now. The A's will play them 19 times—two series in both May and September, but only one series in June and August. The good news is, the series are spread out.
So far so good against the Los Angeles Angels; the A's are 5-1 against them. Oakland won't see LA again until the second half, specifically two series in the final days of baseball. The hope is that the Angels don't pick up steam and right the ship. The Athletics own their number right now, but they'll need to own them all season.
The Seattle Mariners are underrated.
It's a small sample size, but the A's are 2-2 against them, slightly outscoring them 15-13. But although the Mariners are better than the names on the roster indicate, the A's have the more complete team. Oakland's gotten the better of Seattle the last few seasons.
Then there's the Houston Astros.
At 6-0 already, the A's take on the Astros 14 more times. They've also outscored Houston 45-19. The only team they've scored more on is the Angels.
They're owning the Astros and Angels. They've consistently played well against the Mariners year after year, and nothing should change in 2013. Taking out three of the four AL West opponents bodes well for the Athletics.
No. 5: A Dominant Closer
Balfour has 23 consecutive saves.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Baseball is a team sport. A power-hitting and/or scrappy offense helps lead teams to playoffs, as does a dominant pitching staff. Of course, a fantastic bullpen equipped with a lights-out closer helps.
The A's have just that—a door-shutting closer.
Grant Balfour is money. Dating back to 2012, he's effectively saved 23 consecutive games. You can't say it's a fluke if it's continued over the course of two seasons with an offseason in between.
Balfour's ability to lock down and close out games is incredibly important, especially considering Oakland's recent propensity for close and extra-inning games.
No. 4: Starting Pitching
It's Milone who leads the staff so far this year.
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OK, so it looks bad now. But there's signs of rebound. And if that happens, this team will start blowing teams away with its talent.
The first thing to remember is Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone won 13 games each in their rookie season. They know how to pitch.
Brett Anderson is the No. 1 guy, for now. Looking at advanced stats such as home run to flyball rate (HR/FB) and batting average on balls in play (BABIP), they're both awfully high. But both numbers deviate from his career numbers by an absurd amount, indicating he's likely to turn things around.
Essentially, as poorly as he's pitching, there's no where to go but up.
And though his ERA is 7.23, his fielding independent pitching (FIP) is 4.28. FIP is a better indicator of pitching efficiency than ERA, predicting how well (or not) a pitcher should do. The 4.28 rating is below average still, but it's not awful.
While Anderson's near five walks per nine innings is of concern, he's also striking out nine batters per nine innings.
Milone, A.J. Griffin and Bartolo Colon look like they've picked up right where they left off last year. Each of these men own an amazing stat.
Milone is striking out nearly eight per nine innings. He also leaves three-quarters of baserunners stranded. Colon is walking, well, no one really. The number per nine is 0.24—just phenomenal. Griffin strands runners on base as well as Milone, and batters are only hitting .236 against him.
There's no nice way to say Parker is struggling. But again, like Anderson, he's so close to rock bottom, there's nowhere to go but up.
Dan Straily is a great fill-in.
His ERA is 5.94, but that's very deceiving. He's pitched two quality games—one against the Yankees—and one really bad game. It's hard to fault the guy for giving up six runs to the Angels. Especially since he struck out six in four innings and only walked one.
The A's have great pitching.
Three-fifths of the starters give the team an above-average chance of winning every time they take the hill. The two who are struggling are considered their top two guys. They'll have to rebound at some point. And a sixth option is as good as any No. 5 starter, and even some No. 4 guys.
The signs show a turnaround is coming.
No. 3: Yoenis Cespedes Is THAT Good
Cespedes may be the best free agent pickup in years.
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Teams should not rely on one player as heavily as the A's do on Yoenis Cespedes. Still, there's good reason for doing so—he's that good.
The A's are 96-52 (0.65) with Cespedes in the lineup. They're 16-31 (0.34) without him. That's pretty significant.
That means that if Cespedes were to stay healthy and play 162 games in a season, the A's should hypothetically win 105 games. He's been on one DL stint, let's say he goes on the 15-day DL once more. He would almost single-handedly give them a legitimate shot at winning 85 games.
Now, his first absence came in April, a month the A's won.
Quick math: 162 games minus 28 games in April and five games in May leaves 129 games. If Cespedes misses 15 more, that's 114 games he could play in, which equates to (with the same win percentage of .65) 74 wins. Add that to the 18 wins they already have, and that's 92 wins.
Now, if they win only one-third of the games Cespedes misses (a hypothetical 15 more), that's five more wins. The record would be 97 wins.
If this team can't get into the postseason with 97 wins, then the baseball world is a cruel one.
No. 2: League Leaders in Offense
The A's have performed this action more than any other team.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
It's an easy concept: score more runs, win baseball games.
The Oakland Athletics lead all of Major League Baseball with 174 runs scored, 10 more than the next team. Similarly, they lead the league in RBI too. I throw this in for fun, but they're No. 1 in doubles too.
Does luck have anything to do with it?
A league-leading 152 walks—20 more than the next team—would say there's some solid plate discipline going on in Oakland. The simple idea of getting on base to create better opportunities to score appears to be working. But the A's are also third in hits and tied for third in stolen bases as well.
They're walking, getting hits, stealing bases and scoring runs at the same rate or better than the best teams in baseball. You can't ask for more.
The hitting is there, waiting for the pitching to come around and make this team that much more dangerous.
No. 1: The Baseball Gods Love This Team
Maybe they just really like pie?
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You can't talk about destiny without at least mentioning the baseball gods. And these baseball gods love them some Oakland A's.
Dating back to last season, this team is 14-5 in extra innings games, and that accounts for a 3-0 record in 2013 alone. They're also 29-21 in one-run games.
And of course, there's the walk-off wins.
After 15 last year—including playoffs—the A's have three in 2013. Two of those came in back-to-back fashion. One of them featured two games worth of drama by itself.
On April 29 against the Angels, the A's found themselves down in the bottom of the ninth. With two outs, Yoenis Cespedes played the hero to tie things up, sending the game into extras. The Angels looked to end things in the 15th, but the A's answered right back with yet another two-out hit to knot it up.
Brandon Moss eventually ended the six-plus hour affair with a two-run shot.
To come back once in a game, with two outs in the ninth no less, is heart. To do it again in extras might be a little bit of magic. To hang on and finally end it, dog tired and against a powerful opponent? That takes a bit of favorable mojo from the baseball gods.