Before the season began, I predicted the Oakland Athletics would win 92 games and just miss the playoffs. After two months and a chance to re-evaluate, the odds to win the division are better, but only barely.
There's great reason to believe the A's can legitimately compete for the AL West crown. There won't be any come-from-behind surprises this year. In fact, if anyone still thinks this team is a fluke, they clearly haven't watched enough baseball.
It's not my doubt in the A's, it's the talented competition that causes concern.
Let's take a look at a few roadblocks standing in Oakland's way, as well as counters to those challenges.
What the A's Have Going For Them
They're off to a hot start.
The A's have finished the first two months of baseball with winning records. Currently, Oakland is on pace for 96 wins. If 96 wins can't get a team into playoffs, then boy, we might be witnesses to the best baseball season of all time.
However, a wild-card spot is one thing. The division title is another.
The original prediction claimed 92 wins, and that's in large part due to the schedule.
June is going to be challenging. Again, the Athletics are a great team, and they can certainly compete with the best of them. But after the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners, the A's face the Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals.
September looks super easy (Minnesota Twins, Mariners, Astros), but the A's have to get through August, their toughest month of the season, first. During those dog days they'll face the Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles.
The talent is there, though.
Josh Donaldson is playing All-Star-caliber baseball, and Yoenis Cespedes is making a case to be included in the 2013 Home Run Derby. From Coco Crisp leading things off to Grant Balfour closing it out, the team is not just a bunch of nobodies.
If everything looks so peachy, what could possibly stop the A's from winning the division?
It's those pesky Rangers.
A's fans might be quick to claim either the Rangers aren't good or their green and gold team is simply better. But let's be realistic: The Rangers are one of the best teams in baseball.
Their offense is filled with talented hitters like Adrian Beltre. Their pitching staff has a potential Cy Young winner in Yu Darvish and one of the best closers on the back-end, Joe Nathan.
And nearly opposite of the A's, the Rangers have an easy schedule once they get out of June.
Specifically worrisome (for Oakland), while the A's battle in the month of August, Texas might be able to set it on cruise control the rest of the way.
Additionally, Oakland's health is a concern.
Notice how often columnists point out how well the A's play with Cespedes in the lineup versus how limited they are without him? We wouldn't have to constantly point to the numbers if it wasn't constantly relevant.
It's not great when the team is so dependent on one guy who may be a bit more prone to injuries than the average ballplayer.
And if Jed Lowrie, or worse, Donaldson goes down, what happens then?
Finally, the Actual Odds of Winning the Division
One final consideration has to be the Rangers' knack for folding under pressure.
Three years isn't an overwhelming sample size, but they are three consecutive years with relatively the same roster (and arguably a worse one at that).
In 2010, Texas lost in the World Series in five games, outscored 29-12 along the way. In 2011 it got worse. One out away from winning the World Series, the Rangers blew it by allowing two runs in the bottom of the ninth sending Game 6 into extras. They quickly scored two, made two more outs and once again were one out away from glory.
They blew it again.
Texas went on to lose Game 7 and a second consecutive World Series. The following year saw even more heartbreak. The Rangers lost the AL West division title to the A's on the final day of the season.
One Wild Card loss later, and they were outed.
Conversely, the A's play outstanding baseball in the second half. Take last year for example, when they won 51 games (67 percent of their games). Even during the losing 2011 campaign, the A's rebounded from a 42 percent win percentage in the first half to a .500 average in the second. The last time Oakland failed to finish .500 or better after the All-Star break was in 2008, five years ago.
Every negative has its positive. This one is almost too hard to tell.
Let's consult outside predictors.
According to Sportsclubstats.com, the A's have an 85.8 chance of making it to playoffs. The breakdown includes a 20 percent chance (each) for going as the No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 seed, which means they win the division.
MLB.com is less optimistic.
Their intensely calculated projections give the Rangers an 82.5 percent chance of making playoffs. Oakland has only a 68.5 percent chance.
Lastly, BaseballProspectus.com also gives the A's a 68.5 percent chance to make the playoffs, but that figure drops to 34.5 percent to go as the division winner.
The average of the three sites directly above would claim the A's are about 74 percent likely to go to playoffs, one way or another. So what are the odds of doing it as division winners again?
It's tempting to say it's 50-50.
Shocking it would be to see the Rangers fail to take advantage of a soft schedule down the stretch. Likewise, Oakland has to be in tip-top shape the rest of the way, and to do so, health is a must.
Because of those concerns, the odds of winning the division are more like 45 percent.
So they may not win the AL West. Still, they're a fantastic bet to make playoffs period and win more than the originally predicted 92 games in the process.
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