Two seasons in a row the Oakland A’s have shocked the baseball world by winning the A.L. Western Division over the likes of the Texas Rangers and the pre-season favorite Los Angeles Angels. When I say “baseball world” I am of course referring to non-bay area residents, who don’t get to see much A’s baseball until after the All-Star break, depending whether Oakland is winning or not. So even this seasons division championship, despite winning last seasons, is a surprise to non-A’s fans once again.
The difference this year, at least for those whom judge baseball objectively, is that the Oakland A’s were not as big a Cinderella story as last season. In 2013 the Athletics should have been the favorites to win the division, but the hype down south for the Angels swept through the lands, as if the games were won through contracts, and endorsements. In Green and Gold country up north we watch baseball with both eyes wide open, and we get to enjoy home grown talent instead of attempting to buy success. The success of the A’s is a credit to excellent front office management led by Billy Beane, and the exceptional coaching staff led by Bob Melvin, the emergence of third baseman Josh Donaldson, having an MVP type season, the veteran leadership of Coco Crisp, the key acquisition of Jed Lowrie, and of course the pitching staff.
The A’s pitching staff seasoned and legitimized itself in the baseball world as a staff to be reckoned with, led by the ageless one Bartolo Colon, who despite last seasons PED’S suspension, has managed to go 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA. In 190 innings Colon struck out 117 batters, not the most overpowering stuff, but his 29 walks indicate this veteran is pounding the strike zone consistently. Colon has been hitting his spots and working the corners, even giving up 193 hits has not effected Colon nor the A’s performance when he is on the hill. Jarrod Parker has played exceptionally well, stepping his game up in the absence of Brett Anderson, making claim to the number 2 spot in the rotation, going 12-8 with a 3.94 ERA, and 134 strikeouts all in 197 innings. Along with AJ Griffin, who led the team in strikeouts (171), Tommy Milone, 12 game winner, Dan Straily who went 10-8 in his first full season, and the new guy Sonny Gray who has impressed many teammates, fans, and opposing franchises with his natural ability.
Sonny Gray emerges as the wild card in this overstaffed dilemma, which is a good problem to have, especially going into the postseason. Gray could in fact bump one of his teammates out of the starting rotation for the postseason, and deservingly so. In 10 starts Gray is 5-3, with a 2.67 ERA, and 67k’s in 64 innings. Impressive numbers in such a short time frame in the big leagues for the youngster who may be called upon as early as game 3, in Detroit of all places. One thing we know about this kid is he can play ball, and is not intimidated by no line-up. The experience factor could play in favor of the A’s and Gray. The youth factor could ease the tension of playoff atmosphere in a way in which a young Barry Zito displayed in New York against the high powered Yankee lineup back in 2000. Zito earned the win over the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, his postseason debut, and Oakland now hopes history repeats itself for Sonny Gray, not for the series end results. For the year 2000 and 2012 for that matter, as a rematch against Detroit will be a tough matchup, but the depth the A’s have altogether could be the difference in this series. The A’s are a better hitting and pitching team this season than last, and the Tigers will need more then just Justin Verlander pitching shutouts to beat these swinging A’s. With Max Scherzer having an unbelievable season, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, and Annibal Sanchez solid counterparts the Tigers will be coming full force to Oakland this postseason, but the A’s can and will answer every challenge this staff brings with the outstanding play of their own. This series could be the best of the postseason, and could mark the changing of the guard for the American League, as the depth of the Green and Gold could prove too much for Detroit this time around.
Game 1 Prediction: A’s pitch Bartolo Colon who out-duels Justin Verlander, A’s beat Tigers 2-1.