Let’s do a quick exercise.
When you think of the Oakland Athletics, what do you automatically think of?
A common answer could be the 2011 film Moneyball, which starred Brad Pitt as Athletics general manager Billy Beane. “He gets on base” is perhaps one of the most simplistic, yet significant lines that resonate to baseball fans who loved the movie and the Michael Lewis book it was based on, which came out eight years prior.
Another answer could be their payroll, which consistently ranks among the bottom five in all of baseball.
Perhaps it even is even their home, RingCentral Coliseum, which is showing its age to the point of arguably being the worst stadium in all of baseball.
These are all fair answers. However, you should also think of this team as a dark horse World Series contender.
In a high-powered league consisting of the run-producing New York Yankees, resilient Cleveland Indians, homer-happy Minnesota Twins, and American League West rival (and super-team) Houston Astros, one could easily overlook them.
Let’s talk about their record. The Oakland Athletics have had two different seasons. Going into the All-Star Break they sat at 50-41, good enough for second in the division and 1.5 games out of the second Wild Card. Since the All-Star Break, the Athletics have gone 26-15, good enough for a .634 winning percentage. When compared to American League teams in a playoff spot right now, that would be better than both the Twins (.581) and Indians (.622). Although the Yankees (.660) and Astros (.681) both have better win percentages, Oakland has held their own against both teams as of late; they swept the Yankees in their first series this season last week and right after took three of four from Houston. Oakland outscored both opponents by a margin of 36 runs to 25 runs. A common saying in sports is “what have you done for me lately,” and in the case of the Athletics, they went 6-1 against teams with the first and third-best record in all of baseball.
In regard to the offense, since the All-Star Break, the collective offensive numbers from Oakland have been serviceable, with their team OPS ranking sixth in the AL at .792. While homegrown players Matt Chapman and Matt Olson have been good, they have not been the ones carrying the lineup. Instead, career years from Mark Canha and Marcus Semien have been the driving force, with Canha posting a 1.010 OPS and Semien posting a .979 OPS in the second half. What makes this team scary? Center fielder Ramon Laureano, who was also having a career year, has been on the injured list since July 29th. What makes this team even scarier? Khris Davis has yet to truly heat up, having had the worst year offensively of his career so far.
The starting pitching has also held its own. Oakland’s 4.02 starter ERA in the second half is 4thin the AL and third among teams in a playoff spot, with only the Astros and Indians posting better numbers. Chris Bassit and Mike Fiers, their most dependable pitchers, have taken the rotation on their backs, have both posted a sub-2.60 ERA in the second half. What makes this team scary? Their best starter, Sean Manaea, who pitched a no-hitter against the would-be World Series-winning Boston Red Sox, has not yet pitched this season. What makes this team even scarier? Their bullpen, which was huge to their success last season, has scuffled as of late having pitched to a 4.64 ERA in the second half, good enough for fifth-worst in the entire AL.
Defensively, Oakland has been sharp, with their .986 Fielding Percentage being second in the entire AL, with only Houston being more efficient. Additionally, they have only committed 69 errors, best for third in the AL and second among AL teams in a playoff spot (Houston). What makes this team scary? They possess one of the best infield defenses in all of baseball. What makes this team even scarier? Third baseman Matt Chapman could not only be a gold glove winner, but also a platinum glove award winner.
What this team has done is impressive. What this team could do should they put it all together is downright terrifying.
Perhaps it is by design that this team is overlooked. Then again, maybe it is not.