On the last day of June, the Oakland A’s had a 37-42 record, “good” for third place in the American League West’s four-team race to the postseason. Though just the season’s halfway point, the A’s looked lost without a cause.
They’d just dropped three straight to the team looking farthest down on them in the division, the first-place Texas Rangers. With a severe lack of offensive firepower, the A’s offense appeared simply incapable of picking up its otherwise exceptional pitching. Down 13 games to the Rangers and 6.5 back of the L.A. Angels, even a chance at the wild card spot elicited giggle-snorts and eye-rolls from the casual Major League Baseball fan.
It looked to be the beginning of another predictable two-team race to the AL West cellar with the Seattle Mariners. The Rangers and Angels had continued building separation from their little AL West brothers, fighting it out for the AL top seed and wild card spot as– clearly– the only two squads in the division who had a chance at October baseball.
And then there were three.
What happened after June 30th was about as unprecedented as it was unexpected in the baseball world. The Oakland A’s—yes, the same 2012 squad who scored double digit runs in just four of their 79 games to that point—began stringing off W’s.
With series sweep after series sweep, the A’s would win 18 of their next 21 contests, before dropping two of their final three to end the month of July.
Their miraculous 19-5 record during the month marks the best record by any American League team in a month since—you guessed it—the Oakland A’s went 24-2 in August of 2002.
That season, the A’s would win the AL West before losing in the divisional playoff round against the wild-card and eventual champion Anaheim Angels.
The Angels’ name change isn’t the only thing that’s different from nearly a decade ago. Shortly after that season, the AL West landscape began to change. Longtime-losers like the Angels and Rangers were lifted into the AL West stratosphere for years on end, while the A’s slowly began to join the Mariners in the basement. Not a single player on that 2002 August squad still remains in green and gold, the majority having retired years ago.
The 2012 A’s squad was not supposed to be like this. And as their late-June record would indicate, they weren’t. They’ve only scored double digits in two of the 29 games played since their abysmal 79-game beginning. The fourth-best ERA in baseball has continued holding strong behind a relatively unknown pitching staff, even more reason for this not to be happening.
But it is.
Perhaps one of the only standing members of the 2002 Oakland A’s organization is General Manager Billy Beane, and perhaps he has the answer. Known for his Moneyball baseball economics, the most cost-effective GM in the game has somehow put it all together again.
This is the same GM who had the Athletics in the 2006 AL Championship Series, baseball’s equivalent of one of the NCAA’s Final Four brackets, with the 24th-lowest payroll out of 30 major league teams. The same GM who has applied sabermetric principles, the most cost-effective method at determining a player’s value, year after year when deciding on whether to add a player to the roster.
Despite recently being criticized by some about his lack of aggressiveness when it comes to picking up big names and making big splashes in the baseball world, Beane has continued standing by his economically-friendly player-evaluating method.
How else can you describe his team’s remarkable surge into wild-card contention, one-half game ahead of the star-studded Angels, entering Monday?
You take one look at the A’s current roster and ask, “Who?” Remember, the A’s were criticized heading into the season because they lost three of their All-Star pitchers in the offseason, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Andrew Bailey, leaving them with no one of household recognition.
Well, the team who has scored the least runs in the AL is getting some recognition now. Behind excellent pitching from guys like Tommy Milone , Jarrod Parker, and even the washed-up-years-ago Bartolo Colon, no one is better at pinning down their opponents and scoring justtttt enough to keep winning.
The star-studded L.A. Angels have already been ascended upon. The Rangers are shaking in their boots. After their June swoon, the A’s haven’t found winning easy, but they certainly have found it manageable.
It doesn’t make much sense on first glance. But deeper down, you’ll find it’s about more than just star names and first glances.
I guess that’s the Moneyball way.