At the beginning of the year, everyone predicted the Oakland Athletics to finish at the bottom of the division. A reasonable prediction based on their offseason trading of arguably their best players in Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill. But fast forward to the final week of the season and you'll find the A's bound for the playoffs. I'm going to take your through how they got to where they are now.
- “Best-case scenario: Early in the season, Oakland ownership gets word that the move to San Jose is a done deal, and the Athletics funnel all their efforts into building the team for 2015-16. Brandon McCarthy and Kurt Suzuki are traded for prospects, bolstering an already-deep farm system, and fans begin to rally around a promising young rotation of Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray.” –Buster Olney
- “Oakland A’s 2012 Prediction: 68-94” –Yahoo Sports
As the Season Progressed:
- Week 1: ESPN Power Ranking: 29: Record 1-1 ; "A's fans should savor the team's league-leading run differential (+1) because come Wednesday and Thursday, reality will set in as actual good teams start to take the field in earnest." -- Jason Wojciechowski: Beaneball
- Week 10: ESPN Power Ranking: 27: Record 23-31; "The A's were swept by the Twins and lost two of three games to the Royals, but they got Yoenis Cespedes back from a hand injury. He played left field instead of center in two of his three games, though, which could really hurt his overall value to the team. -- Jason Wojciechowski: Beaneball
On Sunday, June 10th, the A’s lost 4-3 to the Diamondbacks concluding a three-game sweep. The A’s were falling and there were no guarantees it would stop anytime soon. The A’s did have one thing going for them at this time: they were consistent. Consistently, they were the worst in the league in hitting. Shutouts and strikeouts were the norm for the inept A’s offense. At the O.Co Coliseum, Billy Beane was no longer the mastermind behind Moneyball, but rather just another person who had contributed to years of preparing for next year.
June 11th 2011. Something must have happened in Oakland. Maybe it was a closed doors meeting that no one heard about. Maybe it was Bartolo Colon juicing up for his start the next day. Maybe it was just a small shift in the atmosphere on the plane as the A’s travelled from Phoenix to Denver. Whatever it was, it began the power surge for the Oakland A’s. Four jacks for the A’s came in their next game. They won five in a row. The power surge continued to the break, and the A’s quickly found themselves back at .500 with another walk-off win – a familiar feeling for Oakland’s faithful – on July 8th.
Coming out of the break, the fall back to reality seemed inevitable. With eight of the next nine series coming against legitimate playoff contenders, including the Rangers, Yankees, and Angels, most believed the other Bay Area team would be lucky to come out within five games of .500. In the blink of an eye, the A’s were 11 games over their previous record. The lowest payroll swept the Bronx Bombers in four, all of which were one run games. For the first time in nine years, the Yankees were swept in four. For the first time in years, the A’s looked like a team that could win more than they lost.
Back on April 6th, I attended the A’s (United States) opener. Prior to the game, an announcement for Bud Light’s Walk Off Hero was made. The PA rang, “For every walk off the Athletics record this season, $5,000 will be donated”. My friend and the season ticket holder in front of us joked about how generous it was of Bud Light to possibly donate $5,000 dollars. Well, the joke is reality now. In the bottom of the 15th, the A’s had chances on this July night to end it earlier, but it was officially time when Jemile Weeks stepped to the plate and sent a sac fly soaring into center field scoring Brandon Inge. This was walk off No. 12, and the A’s had won nine of their last 17 at home on walk offs, the first time a team had done that since the 1974 Dodgers. For the first time in what seemed like ages, the A’s are contenders to begin the month of August.
Fast forward from July 30th, the night of the 15 inning thriller, to August 31st. Two touchdowns and a pair of field goals. That’s how many points the A’s hung on the Red Sox, but by points I mean runs. On this night, George Kottaras, Stephen Drew, Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jonny Gomes all scored and drove in a run. Brandon Moss had a huge game. Look at those names. Where else do you score 20 runs with those names? Then again, where do you win with those names?
Moving on to the Angels series with runners on the corners and nobody out in the bottom of the ninth, the Angels had to like their chances down one run. After all, they had just closed the gap from 6-3 to 6-5 without giving away any outs on September 11th. Grant Balfour, which looked a lot like "BallFour" that night, was relieved by Jeremy Blevins who had not recorded a save in the season. Blevins, with one save in 204 career appearances, struck out Kendrys Morales and then got some stellar defense from Josh Donaldson, Cliff Pennington and Moss to end the game on a 5-4-3 DP. This, among other moments, is a perfect exhibition of the 2012 Oakland Athletics. They are clutch performers.
Starting on the 21st of September, the A’s met the Yankees again, but this time without the possibility of a walk-off since they would hit in the top of the frame. In the first game, the A's tasted their own medicine on a walk off from Russell Martin. Then in the 13th the next day, the swinging A’s popped three homers to take a 9-5 lead in the 13th, which they blew to lose in 14. The wheels easily could have fallen off for the rest of the season, and the former Athletic Eric Chavez was quick to criticize the A’s for their celebrations in the top of the 13th. The next day Gomes, one of few veterans, snapped back at Chavez basically saying that some teams know how to have fun and this list certainly does not include the team wearing pinstripes. The A’s came back and avoided the sweep in typical Athletics fashion, behind 4 2/3 scoreless innings out of their bullpen.
I remember listening to callers on local sports radio worrying about the possibility of a 100 loss season. I remember the three-game series with the Angels where they scored three runs and had a span of 23 innings with four hits. I remember the fear that the surge would be marred by the inevitable trade deadline that commonly depletes the A’s. I remember watching McCarthy taking a line drive to the head leaving Tommy Milone as the oldest starter in the rotation at the ripe age of 25. Between all the adversity, these Athletics have stayed loose and kept winning. Heading into late, late September, the A’s hope to contend thanks to Chris Carter, Cespedes and Donaldson. The way this season has been going, the Green and Gold have to like their chances heading into October.
- Week 25: ESPN Power Ranking 4: Record 84-62 ; "Brandon Moss is 10th in baseball in slugging percentage among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. Chris Carter is 14th. Finding a first baseman is exactly as easy as everyone says it is!" -- Jason Wojciechowski: Beaneball