Expectations can be tricky things.
Often times, teams with high expectations fail to measure up, while squads without expectations do better than anticipated. For the 2010 Athletics, the latter is true.
Without any considerable power threat on the roster (Jack Cust started the season at Triple-A), it was hard to imagine the non-explosive A's coming close to a .500 record. With two games the left, Oakland is two wins away from finishing 81-81.
No matter what happens the next two nights in Seattle, the Athletics' brass must be pleased with the way the summer played out.
Oakland scored the fourth-fewest runs in the American League, was second-worst in total bases, and hit the second-fewest home runs.
But the team was able to hover around the .500 mark for most of the season because of its pitching staff. As one of the youngest staffs in all of baseball, the A's have the lowest team ERA in the AL (3.57). They did it largely without two of their top starters heading into the season, Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer.
No one questioned whether or not the team had built a foundation for a strong staff, but not many outside the organization believed its young arms would be this good this quickly.
Trevor Cahill pitched his way into the role of the team's ace with his outstanding season in 2010. The sinkerballer showed flashes during last year's rookie campaign, but was unable to consistently locate his pitches. In 2009, Cahill gave up 27 home runs while compiling a 4.63 ERA.
This season, the 22-year-old right-hander only let 19 balls leave the yard, strung together a 2.97 ERA, and won 18 games.
Brett Anderson managed only 18 starts, but still pitched well and lowered his 2010 ERA (2.91) by more than a run from his 2009 mark (4.06). When healthy, he could have the best stuff of any left-handed starter in baseball. But he'll have to prove that he can stay healthy over the course of an entire season.
Like Cahill, Anderson is 22 years old.
The advantage the starting staff possesses is the different look each pitcher provides.
Cahill can dominate with his sinker, Anderson's a true power arm with four plus-pitches, Gio Gonzalez was praised by Torri Hunter as having the best left-handed curve in baseball, and Dallas Braden's bulldog mentality allows him to be successful with less than dominating stuff.
Those four starters are good enough to win a pennant if healthy. If Vin Mazzaro can make the jump next season like his counterparts did in 2010, the A's should have far and away the best pitching staff in baseball.
Owner Lew Wolff and GM Billy Beane have both pledged to make the offense better in 2011. Whether it comes from inside the organization or through free-agency/trades, the team could very well find itself back as a contender for an AL West crown this time next year.