The Oakland A’s are like your average cover band. They have no superstar lead singers. They are G Unit without 50 cent, Young Money without Weezy, or “The Gang” without Fat Albert.
They also keep defying the odds and putting out bangers, as they doggedly defend the AL West crown they ripped from the clutches of Texas last season. Oakland is tied for first with the Rangers at 39-27, after spanking The Bronx Bombers and Bay area beast CC Sabathia Tuesday night.
Last season, the Oakland A’s were baseball’s miracle underdogs; they looked like mincemeat halfway through the season, 13 games off the AL West lead as July jumped off.
Then it all clicked with the help of skipper Bob Melvin, who should have won Producer of the Year rather than his second Manager of the Year award last season.
He went back into the lab and recalibrated his patchwork band of retreads, late-career vets and young, unproven talent. He then created symphonic cohesion and a baseball machine with a flair for the live dramatic.
Melvin and the A’s pulled off an improbable string of hits and went 57-26 the rest of the way, including a club-record 19-5 in July, to win the AL West on the season’s final day by sweeping the “Super Group” Rangers. Texas had slept on the A’s and stopped doing shows once they thought they had all the postseason music awards under wraps.
The A’s found a magic that most experts thought they couldn’t sustain this season. But having a patient figure and principal proponent of sabermetrics running the point is always a plus. Like a top exec hustling and handling a consistently solid label for over a decade, Billy Beane has ran the A’s franchise with an unwavering philosophy based on unique player evaluation and limited spending.
The A’s don’t carry big-name sluggers or pitchers with bowling ball-sized egos, so most of their guys are just happy to be competing at the MLB level. Sick chemistry and role acceptance – the x-factors with any group – seem to be common traits of this Oakland team.
Oakland has managed to win despite the fact that they are 27th in the majors with a payroll just over $60 million. If it were doubled, it would still be less than seven MLB teams. In contrast, the Dodgers have the highest payroll in the majors, can’t find a chord of cohesion and are sitting in last place. The star-studded Angels are 11.5 games behind in the AL West, and suffering from the delicate and disastrous balancing act of getting prima donna performers to show up every day. The Phillies had the Eastern market locked for a while but are currently under .500.
The A’s have maintained the same care-free, gung-ho, grinding attitude since last season. The only difference is, the underdog python bite is no longer an option. They can’t sneak around, with shoes in-hand looking for a surprise come-up this season. No more lip-synching and reusing other guys’ lost gems.
By the end of that run last season, the A’s had people in Oakland doing their own thing like the “The Bernie Lean,” and their dedication to the farm system is paying off as potential superstar front man is emerging in third baseman Josh Donaldson. The 27-year-old rookie is mashing up the majors and making the league minimum while leading Oakland in batting (.324), hits (77), RBI (42) and OBP (.393)
They also get great production from guys like outfielders Coco Crisp (.290 with 13 steals), who sets the tone and Yoenis Cespedes, who provides the punch (13 dingers).
Pitching is the baseline and defense is the drum loop for every Oakland hit. “Old Man Rivers” a.k.a. Bartolo Colon (performance enhancers or not) has remarkably been the ace of the staff, going 7-2 at age 40. Tommy Milone is just 26; A.J. Griffin is 25; and Jarrod Parker’s been up and down so far, but he is considered a prodigy pitcher.
Regardless of who plays keyboard and who DJs, Oakland keeps pace with the celebrity cats that get all the press. You don’t make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with one album; you need consistent hits. Oakland gets it.