Following a very busy offseason in which a lot of big-name bats joined the AL West, the possibility existed that the Oakland Athletics might struggle to keep up with the sticks after their biggest offensive acquisitions were a pair of veteran defensive specialists who have combined for 21 home runs in 20 big league seasons.
Turns out, the A's already had all the offense they needed, and they've been proving as much as the season embarks upon its second month.
On the final day of April, Oakland beat up on the division-rival Texas Rangers, finishing off a three-game sweep with a 12-1 walloping. The A's outscored Texas by a count of 25-4 over the series to pull a season-high three full games ahead of the Rangers for the top spot in the West.
Manager Bob Melvin had this to say, via Jane Lee of MLB.com, about his team's offense:
Do you expect to put that many runs on the board? Probably not. When you're getting good at-bats across the board and making guys work, I've often used the analogy of a boxer getting body blow after body blow, to where you soften someone up, and that's what we do well. It doesn't always happen, but it did this time and against good pitching.
At 18-10, Oakland has the best record in the American League entering May.
While the Athletics' pitching has been among the best in the sport as usual—the staff's 2.78 ERA checks in at No. 2 overall and is easily atop the AL by nearly half a run—the lineup has been under-the-radar great and is equally responsible for driving the club to its hot start as it pushes for a third straight AL West crown.
What makes that especially noteworthy is that despite not making any major offensive additions, this deep, balanced one-through-nine lineup is showing it can carry the load that was lost on the pitching front before the season even began.
Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Bartolo Colon—the three starters who led the team in innings pitched and each made 30-plus starts in 2013—will not have thrown a single pitch for Oakland this season. While Colon left to join the New York Mets as a free agent, Parker and Griffin both required Tommy John surgery and will miss the year, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
And yet, the A's power on, which is appropriate given what their hitters have done so far. In fact, Oakland's offense ranks among the top 10—even the top five—in a number of categories:
Unlike the rest of the West, the A's and general manager Billy Beane have done this by more or less keeping the lineup intact after a strong showing in 2013. That's pretty remarkable, especially considering how much the division changed around them.
While the Texas Rangers were busy bringing aboard on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo and slugger Prince Fielder via free agency and trade, respectively, the Seattle Mariners spent $240 million to land Robinson Cano, the top free agent on the market, in addition to inking former 30-homer hitter Corey Hart.
As for the Angels, well, they added former World Series MVP David Freese and designated hitter Raul Ibanez, who despite being in his 40s always seems to be good for 20-plus homers.
Meanwhile, as alluded to above, the Athletics' "big gets" on offense were outfielder Craig Gentry and infielder Nick Punto, a duo known exclusively for their defensive prowess—and who, yep, have accumulated all of 21 home runs in their 20 seasons. In other words, a homer a year.
So who is doing the damage for Oakland? Pretty much everybody. You may not even be able to name the club's starting lineup, but among the eight regulars, only two have an OPS below .800:
This is a team that makes a ton of contact—Oakland's 196 strikeouts are the seventh fewest in MLB—when it's not drawing walks, which it has done more than any other club. That's why an offensive outburst like Wednesday's 12 runs can happen even if only one home run, a solo shot by Coco Crisp, is involved.
#Athletics have reached at least 9 runs for sixth time in last 15 games. It's 9-0 in the 4th, Tex bullpen working overtime once again.— Joe Stiglich (@JoeStiglichCSN) May 1, 2014
Heck, the A's scored seven runs against the Rangers in a third inning that featured four singles, two doubles, a walk, a fielder's choice and an error:
Oakland is already 14-8 in the AL West, far and away the best mark in the division. And while a lot of that damage has been done against the Mariners and lowly Astros, the Athletics also are 5-4 combined against the Rangers and Angels and have outscored those two teams 49-32 so far.
Specifically, that run differential is a good sign there's more of this to come from Oakland, which currently leads all of baseball by a wide margin in that category at plus-59 runs, per ESPN. The next-closest club in that department are the Angles at plus-40.
Sure, the Athletics' somewhat makeshift rotation, led by second-year starter Sonny Gray (4-1, 1.76 ERA), free-agent find Scott Kazmir (4-0, 2.11) and converted reliever Jesse Chavez (2-0, 1.89), has been propping the team up.
But make no mistake: Oakland's deep, balanced, diverse lineup is not only the driving force behind the club's big beginning, it's also, surprisingly, the envy of the rest of the AL West.
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