At the end of the day, no matter what the storyline, there exists a reminder as to why the Oakland Athletics possess the best record in baseball. Well, that phrase can be skewered after Monday night’s 5-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers, however putting it aside, the A’s getting to this point midway through the season was no fluke and there ease at which handling adversity has shown why.
As recently as this weekend, the team saw its starting right fielder put back on the DL, only for his replacement to supply what would be a game-winning 3-run home run the next day; it’s closer blow his 26 2/3 scoreless inning streak; as well as leads blown on back-to-back days. Yet the series concluded Sunday and sure enough the A’s were heading to Detroit after a clean sweep of the Miami Marlins.
Now sitting at 51-31, the A’s possess a 5 game lead in the AL West and have done so by playing the same brand of baseball that won the previous two AL West division crowns. Though, with its starting rotation that looks almost completely different from last season’s and a lineup full of players that can act in multiple positions, the A’s have not looked like another version of this recent era of success.
This team is far different and looking at some of the statistical categories, such as their plus-134 run differential and Bill Barnwell's post on their historically good start, explains why.
With all that said though, the A’s find themselves involved in a division race that it can’t ignore. The Angels are 5 games back and the Seattle Mariners 6.5; meaning there is plenty of breathing room, but not enough to become comfortable. In their last 10 games the A’s have gone 7-3, yet in that same time frame both the Mariners and the Angels went 7-3. The 45-38 Mariners would be the division leader in the NL East.
What that translates to are circumstances where every series until the end of September is important.It also means that the month of July will be a crucial month in Billy Beane’s office considering that there exist obvious question marks with the pitching staff and at second base.
Its year three of this surge in which the Oakland A’s have escaped from the league’s doormat and won the most games out of any major league team. Yet with all that said, a waiver-wire trade may be the difference between an Oakland team leaving after the divisional series of the playoffs again or making a serious run into October. With a prowess of slated All-Star starters in Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes, paired with a list of players exceling at a rate their scouting report would never suggest, the A's are in as good of position as they've been all century. Question marks regarding their roster are clearly visible though.
"The A's have become a powerhouse and are as well-positioned to make a deep run in the postseason as they have been at other point during GM Billy Beane's tenure. A strong pitching staff and a deep lineup go a long way, but Oakland is not perfect. No team is. They have gotten the fifth worst production from second base (-0.2 WAR) in baseball and there are some workload concerns in the rotation (Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, specifically),"CBS Sports' Mike Axisa writes in his latest post that compares the A's with the now wholly Tampa Bay Rays.
Its simple really. The A's have a few flaws and if they are to raise a championship banner rather than a divisional crown this is the year to finally do it.
Read Moneyball and you'll know that Billy Beane and the rest of management is aware their window of opportunity is much smaller than others and look into the Rays' worst record in baseball to understand it even clearer.(The Rays won 90+ games from 2010-13, yet this year are 35-49).
The main takeaway: success over long periods is not guaranteed, which is why looking into viable options at second base and pitching is crucial.
The real issue with the pitching staff is only derived from its depth. Jarrod Parker and AJ Griffin, who both combined for 64 starts last season, going down put the A's at odds at the beginning of the season and Drew Pomeranz's injury created even more problems.
Regardless, the A's have the second-best ERA in baseball, but whether they can keep that up is the underlying issue. Sonny Gray's 5.10 ERA in his last six starts creates concern, and the question as to whether Brad Mills can be the guy to replace Pomeranz should generate enough reason to look for an experienced and formidable starter on the market.
Then looking at the middle infield, its safe to say that an every day second baseman acquired would be that "it" factor that the A's may desperately need at the end of the season. Eric Sogard has displayed that he can't be relied on as a long term option yet and the list of second baseman trade candidates would presumably provide much more strength to the lineup. Second base may be in the biggest demand too, however. Just look across the bay and see the problems the Giants are having at the position to understand that it could be a very competitive market.
As it goes though, question marks always exist, its just a matter of how and when they are answered. Look to earlier this season and see that Jim Johnson's struggles had no pivotal impact on the bullpen because of the year Sean Doolittle is experiencing in the closer role.
Now whether an answer can be produced in these other areas could help define the latter half of the season.
The numbers are there to prove the A's are an historically good team and recent years only show that the window of opportunity is not getting any larger. So to echo Axisa, the time to make a move for a second baseman, a starting pitcher, maybe even a reliever, is now. When else should it be?