Oakland Athletics will be feeling confident after the first half of their season but now it is about to get serious.
The A’s have given themselves a terrific start to the season, winning a record 59 games, an A’s Major League best.
It’s their biggest number of wins before the All-Star season break in franchise history and the best by any MLB side since the Detroit Tigers in 2006, who also managed 59 victories.
Despite this, the strength of the American League West division is once again shining through as the A’s (59-36) have a slender lead of just 1.5 games on the Los Angeles Angels (57-37), after the Angels won five in a row before the break.
Oakland, with General Manager Billy Beane, have smartly negotiated their way through the trades to strengthen an already impressive roster.
The A’s swooped in for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs on July 4 and with the pair now settled they will add firepower to the A’s bullpen. But it wasn’t as if their pitchers needed drastic help, just ask Sean Doolittle.
The left-handed closer has struck out 63 batters with just two walks in 42 and 2/3 innings and has collected 14 saves, which are mind-boggling statistics.
Oakland have been able to strike a good balance between the batters and the pitchers as the A’s batting line-ups is one which was feared by the rest of the MLB.
And then there is Yoenis Cespedes. The two-time home run derby champion has a .246 batting average from his 90 starts this season and has 56 RBIs and 14 homers.
Yet none of the Oakland team or their fans will be celebrating too early.
The side are heading towards a hat-trick of division titles after winning the American League West division in 2012 and 2013, but in the club’s recent history that is often as good as it gets.
Since 2000, the A’s have won their division seven times but went on to lose their American League Division series in six of the seven years.
Their solitary victory, a 3-0 over the Minnesota Twins in 2006, set up an American League Championship series against the Tigers but they were hammered 4-0.
Who will win?
If the Angels and the A’s keep up the pace they maintained at the top of the AL West division, it is likely both of them will make it to the Division series, either as Wild Cards or division winners.
That is where Billy Beane and his team will need to prepare his men. It is time they stepped up to the big leagues otherwise the 24 year hunt for their first American League Championship series win will continue.
The A's have a perfect first test after the mid-season break: a three-game series at the O.co Stadium against American League East division leaders Baltimore Orioles. There we might see how Oakland Athletics plan to step up.