5 Reasons Why the Oakland Athletics Will Win the American League West
Bad breaks, thin pocketbook and recent sloppy play aside, the Oakland Athletics are still the best team in the American League West. If a couple key players perform well in September, the Athletics should repeat as division champions.
The revised wild-card format means second place is no longer good enough, as the Rangers found last season. A winning season can go down the drain with one playoff loss.
5. Texas Will Choke, Not the A's
In Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the Rangers blew saves in the ninth and 10th innings, surrendered a walk-off home run to David Freese and lost Game 7 the following night.
The next year, Texas was 13 games ahead of the A's in June, and still led by five with two weeks left in the season. We all know how that turned out.
Oakland on the other hand, is "The Land of Clutch Hitting." The A's had 15 walk-off hits in 2012, and have shown a flair for the dramatic this season as well.
If both teams are neck and neck at the end of the season, Oakland will be fighting to make the playoffs, while Rangers will be fighting to not become baseball's Buffalo Bills. Given the teams' history, it's hard not to bet on the A's.
4. September Schedule
The A's open the last month of the season with one game against the Tampa Bay Rays, then a series against the Rangers. Texas will host another series September 13-15, offering more chances to make up a deficit or increase a lead in the standings.
The Rangers, meanwhile, must play the Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals, all of whom are surprise contenders. If the A's lose one of the two head-to-head series, they can make it up against a cellar-dweller while Texas is fighting a better club.
3. Hitters' Improved Luck
The A's have been plagued by bad luck at the plate this season, as FanGraphs shows eight of the 13 active hitters have a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) below league average.
Baseball Prospectus' Russell A. Carleton pointed out that line drives and ground balls fall for hits more often than fly balls, so Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss shouldn't expect great gains. Slap hitters like Coco Crisp and Alberto Callaspo, on the other hand, will likely see more balls dropping for hits.
The greatest outliers are Chris Young and Josh Reddick, with .228 and .239 averages far below their career marks. Both have started to heat up lately, and should continue to hit through the rest of the season.
2. The Rangers' Offense Isn't Actually That Good
Ever since the days of Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro, the Rangers have been able to rake. Playoff runs began when the pitching finally caught up, but now the offense is lagging behind.
After Nelson Cruz's suspension, Adrian Beltre is the only bona fide star in the Rangers' lineup. New right fielder Alex Rios is like the American League's Shin-Soo Choo: he does many things well, but nothing great.
Table-setters Leonys Martin and Elvis Andrus have OBPs below .325, and the bottom of the lineup is no better. Mitch Moreland, Craig Gentry, Jurickson Profar and David Murphy are all batting under .250, but Texas' thin bench necessitates their playing time.
Andrus and Martin have been the primary base-stealers with 30 and 27 swipes respectively, but the Rangers remain ineffective between the bags. In blatant disregard to the A's Moneyball philosophy, Texas ranks third in the league in stolen bases and second in caught stealing, resulting in the AL's 10th-best stolen base percentage.
1. The Best Pitching Around
Playoff baseball is won on pitching, and the Athletics' staff and bullpen are among the league's best.
Cy Young candidate Bartolo Colon leads the rotation with 14 wins and a 2.97 ERA, while second-year stud Jarrod Parker is 7-1 with a 2.81 ERA since May 11. A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily have been solid, and top prospect Sonny Gray earned his first win Thursday.
Relievers Pat Neshek, Jerry Blevins, Dan Otero, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook keep leads intact for All-Star closer Grant Balfour. The A's could still call on Brett Anderson, Tommy Milone and Hideki Nakajima for more help.
Oakland pitchers are known for having pinpoint control, and lead the AL in WHIP, BB/9 and opponents On Base Percentage. In fact, the A's arms rank among the league's top five in ERA, Batting Average Against, complete games, shutouts, saves, save percentage, OPS, K/BB, and total bases given up.
The San Francisco Giants have won two of the last three titles with shutdown pitching and timely hitting. Once the bats wake up, the A's should roll through September and capture the AL West crown.