It must be the show-business rub-off. All the Oakland A’s do is win. Do they have a lot of famous players? No. Is there someone in the batting order putting the whole team on his shoulders and carrying them? No. Is the pitching staff bursting with dominating hurlers? No.
Yet mid-way through the weekend the A’s owned a 60-36 record, the best in baseball. There is something magical going on in the city by the Bay. That other city by the Bay. Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but he probably should be buying season tickets for the A’s.
When it comes to Q rating, the A’s are flat. There are no sensational players on the roster, no sluggers of note that make baseball fans in other cities rush to the box office when the A’s invade their town. There are starting pitchers recording excellent 2014 seasons, but again there is no one on the team who offers must-see theatre.
Whatever flash Oakland offers is linked to Billy Beane, the general manager and part owner of the team who turned making do on a shoestring budget into an art form, which in turn was turned into a book and a movie. So who knew that having a penny-pinching GM could be sexy?
Beane’s ways were described in the best-selling book and subsequent popular movie “Moneyball.” It was practically a self-help book for baseball – how to win without a fat bank account. Beane was the anti-George Steinbrenner. The story sparked a trend in baseball, but Beane, still in the small-market Oakland vicinity, just kept doing what he had been doing.
In 2012, the A’s finished 94-68 and won the American League West Division. In 2013, the A’s finished 96-66 and won the AL West again. This year they are winning at a better clip and are in first place in the AL West. It has been obvious for some time that Beane is a shrewd judge of talent and is a creative front office executive.
But if you look at the hitting and pitching numbers they throw up a dense fog to prevent the observer from being able to tell just how they translate into victories. No position starter is hitting .300. Catcher Derrek Norris comes closest at .295. Coco Crisp is hitting .292. But most of the starters are batting below .250. First baseman Brandon Moss and third baseman Josh Donaldson each have clubbed 21 homers. Donaldson is morphing into an Adam Dunn. He is batting .238 with a .316 on-base percentage, but he does smack big hits, including Friday night when his three-run homer beat the Baltimore Orioles in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Heralded Cuban outfield defector Yoenis Cespedes, a major free-agent signing in 2012, has won the last two Home Run Derby crowns at the All-Star game, but has just 14 that count and is batting .249.
How is that lineup winning at a .625 pace?
Scott Kazmir (11-3) and Sonny Gray (10-3), the top-of-the-rotation starters, are pitching at an All-Star rate. But after them only the sharpest of Oakland fans can even name the rest of the rotation. Jesse Chavez (7-6), Tommy Milone (6-3) and Drew Pomeranz (5-4) were the guys. No wonder Oakland traded for Chicago Cubs pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel – self-analysis convinced Beane that if the A’s had a shot at going all of the way they needed to buttress the pitching.
Beane pulled the trigger, made the trade, and added potentially key components to the mix. The A’s could well keep on cruising for the rest of the regular season, but the playoffs are a different animal. Without go-to stars capable of taking over a short series, Oakland must do all of the little things right, excel at situational hitting, get big games from different guys, be more than the sum of its parts, and be fundamentally sound.
The goal is a World Series title. The Oakland A’s have been winning with mirrors the whole season. To actually win a championship they will have to do all of that – and maybe more -- in October.