The Oakland Athletics, or the A's as most like to call them, haven't been in contention at any point in this season. In fact, it took the team almost two thirds of the season just to pull into second place and a .500 record. But despite all that, they aren't a fun team to have to face. They pitch really well and they field the ball really well. At the plate? Well, two out of three ain't bad.
Let's look first at Oakland's biggest strength. They sure can pitch. They lead the American League in Earned Run Average, Runs allowed, Hits allowed and Earned Runs. They don't strike a lot of guys out. Only Dallas Braden has a K/BB ratio over 2 (an excellent 3.18) unless you include Brett Anderson, whose season has been limited by injuries. They pitch to contact (when they aren't walking people, which they do a little too often) and let their fielders get the outs. Trevor Cahill has exploded this year and currently sports a terrific 13-5 record. His WHIP is under 1.
But is Cahill that good? Well, it depends on how you fall on the luck/skill debate. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) this year is .210. Holy cow! The Fan has never seen one that low on a pitcher. So, you could say he's been extremely lucky. Or you could say that Cahill has been extremely effective at inducing outs. He has nearly a two to one ratio of ground balls to fly balls and he induces ground balls 57% of the time. His batting average against or BABIP on ground balls is an astonishing .111. But here is another thing; Cahill's line drive percentage is only 15.6 percent. That's fantastic and means that he's hard to square the bat against.
Gio Gonzalez is also having a break out year. After another fine performance on Tuesday night, his has improved his record to 11-8 and his ERA is down to 3.24. His K/9 is a healthy 7+ but he walks too many guys still. If he can cut down on his walks (and he did Tuesday night with only one), he could be a really bright star for the A's. Gonzalez is also excellent in keeping the ball in the yard with only ten homers given up.
Dallas Braden has already shown his promise with his perfect game. Forget the immature A-Rod thing, if you put his season in perspective, he got into a funk after the perfect game and didn't win for a long time. But now he is winning again and has looked very impressive. His K/BB ratio is the best among the A's starters. Braden has by far the best control on the staff and his 1.8 walks per nine is fantastic for a young pitcher. Like Cahill and Gonzalez, Braden has been stingy on giving up the long ball.
What really helps the pitching staff is the fielding. Barton is excellent at first. Ellis is among the best at fielding second. Pennington has been outstanding at short. Kouzmanoff is better than adequate at third. Since they were able to take Cust out of left field, Rajai Davis has found a home out there and is a much better left fielder than center fielder. Gabe Gross has been tremendous filling in for Sweeney who is great in right when he is healthy and in center, Coco Crisp has really displayed what he has always displayed and that is--when healthy--he is one of the best center fielders in the game. That fielding combined with the pitching makes one super sized out machine.
And the offense has gotten better in the second half. Is it a good offense? Hardly. They only have two regulars with an OPS+ over 100: Cust and Crisp. But they are certainly better than they were in the first half of the season. They have a positive run differential in the second half, and that's a healthy sign.
Let's face it, the Athletics need to get out of Oakland where they are whithering in a ball park not suited for baseball. They get little fan support because of their stadium and without being able to contend, it's hard to convince fans to come to that crumbling edifice. But just as the fans don't want to come to Oakland, opposing teams don't want to go there either. The A's are a fun team and they are competitive. They are certainly a lot more fun to watch than a lot of other .500 teams.