The Oakland A's are World Series contenders, but to take one step further from contenders to favorites, they'll need to hit, pitch and play defense a tad bit better and more consistently. There's a few upgrades that should help.
They're not far off as it is.
According to CSNBayArea.com, Vegas gave the A's 12/1 odds at the beginning of July, which was the fifth best. The four teams ahead—the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers—all have something in common: They lead the league in many major statistical categories.
Three of those four teams are above Oakland in starting pitching ERA. All four rotations have allowed less earned runs than Oakland. All four lineups have better batting averages. Three out of four have knocked in more RBI too.
Look at any statistic it seems, and you're guaranteed to find those four teams in the top 10. Your guess is as good as mine where the A's place. They're pretty much all over the place.
So how are they even contenders? Solid pitching and timely hits.
The starting rotation holds a sub-4.00 ERA. They've pitched deep into games, indicated by their 623.2 innings pitched, third highest by a starting rotation. That's higher than all four of the above-mentioned teams.
The relievers are effective.
The least amount of losses by relievers is seven. Oakland's bullpen has lost 11 games. The highest ERA by an A's reliever is 3.44, which is satisfactory. Not to mention, they have one of the best closers in the game right now.
The team batting average and the RBI don't lead the league. In fact, they're a bit disappointing. But they were last year too, and the A's still made playoffs and took the AL Champion Tigers to a Game 5. It's odd, but scouring the stats doesn't show anything impressive for the offense, yet here they are, AL West leaders with the fifth best record in baseball.
Contenders, but not yet favorites.
But if they...
Upgrade Second Base
...it could pay dividends.
Eric Sogard isn't actually that bad. He's hitting .278 against right-handed pitchers but .189 against lefties. Against left-handed starters, though, Sogard hits .263. That's not awful.
Adam Rosales hit .260 against lefties and it wasn't good enough. He got sent down to Triple-A.
There's an easy argument to bring up Jemile Weeks, but it's too late in the season. Rosales' .260 wasn't good enough, Sogard is hitting barely above that and Weeks would have to hit higher than both to be worth it. And if he doesn't, the A's stick with Sogard.
It's time to pull the trigger on a trade.
Chase Utley's name has been mentioned several times in connection with Oakland. While he hits better overall than any current option, he hits the same against left-handers: .260. Besides, the A's shouldn't give up what the Philadelphia Phillies will likely want.
Why not bring back Mark Ellis?
He can platoon if need-be. His batting average against southpaws is .291. And A's fans should remember how defensively gifted he is too. It's a minor, cost-effective move that fills a huge need.
But the A's also need to...
Keep Superstars on the Field and Producing
The 2013 Home Run Derby champion is the face and the power of the team. But Yoenis Cespedes has only played in 80 percent of the games so far. In a 162-game season, he's on pace to play in 130 games. The A's can't afford to watch their superstar sit for 32 games—no team can.
Unfortunately, this isn't something that can be "fixed."
However, to be considered favorites, the big bat has to be in the lineup, healthy and producing.
The same can and should be said for Josh Reddick.
The A's right fielder has already missed 30 games. Yes, he got off to a rough start. But we're now four solid months into baseball and beyond the halfway point, and he's still only hitting .216. He was heating up, but that too hit a snag. In the last two weeks, his average is .185.
Then add in Brandon Moss.
Home runs and RBI numbers look great. His average is low and he strikes out three times more than he walks.
Last season, these three hit the snot out of the ball. This year? Not so much.
And the four teams listed above? All of them have three or four big-time players who are having outstanding, superstar-like seasons.
Less runs are needed if they...
Allow Less Home Runs From Starting Pitchers
Joe Blanton has given up a league-leading 24 home runs. A.J. Griffin is second on the list with 23. Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker and close behind with 19 and 16, respectively. The trio is in the top 25 of all MLB pitchers.
Translation: that's not good.
It's almost become a guarantee that these three will give up the obligatory multi-run bomb at some point in the games they start. When other teams tee off on the pitchers, it puts more stress on the offense—whose trio of power hitters aren't coming close to 2012 production—to knock in runs.
Again, regardless of how statistically mediocre Oakland looks, they're still beating National League powerhouses. But they need to...
Beat American League Powerhouses
The Athletics are 13-5 in interleague play which is awesome. But before they get to the World Series to face one of those National League teams (with home-field advantage I might add), they have to defeat their AL brethren first.
Take out 10 wins against the Houston Astros and the record looks much different.
The A's have to tighten up the pitching, figure out an answer at second base now and get more production out of their studs. If they can do those things, they'll soundly beat the best teams in the American League.
Overall, Oakland must become more well-rounded—like the four teams with the best odds of winning the World Series.