Monday, September 3, 2012

Bigger Surprise: Orioles or Athletics?

Not much was expected out of the Oakland Athletics or the Baltimore Orioles this season. Last year, the A's won 77 games and the Orioles only won 69 games. Now, the A's have 76 wins, only 1 win away from matching last year's total. The Orioles currently have 74 wins, which is already 5 more than they had in 2011. Right now, both teams are the American League wild card leaders. They are also within striking distance of first place in their respective divisions. The Orioles are only 2 games back of the Yankees, and the Athletics are 3 games back of the Rangers. Oakland is also 5.5 games ahead of the Angels, which I don't think that even the most hardcore A's fan thought would happen coming into September.

I didn't think the Athletics had a chance this year in the AL West. The Rangers were coming off back to back World Series appearances, and the Angels had made a big offseason splash signing Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. In fact, I was wondering what the hell Billy Beane was doing. He traded three All Star pitchers in Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey this offseason. Beane just signed Cahill and Gonzalez to long term extensions in the last year.

I've been critical of Beane and Moneyball since it seems like he's constantly wheeling and dealing. He's traded Matt Holliday, Dan Haren, Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street, Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, among many others in recent years. He then traded the trio of All Star pitchers I mentioned earlier. However, this year he found a good mix. Bailey brought over Josh Reddick from the Red Sox, and he's had a good year hitting 28 home runs so far. Cahill brought over All Star reliever Ryan Cook, starter Jarrod Parker, and reserve outfielder Colin Cowgill. Gonzalez brought over starter Tommy Milone, new catcher Derek Norris, plus a couple of pitching prospects.

Last year's offense was really bad for the Athletics. This year, only second baseman Jemile Weeks and outfielder Coco Crisp start from last years team. They've added Stephen Drew, Seth Smith, Brandon Inge, and Jonny Gomes since then. They signed Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and brought up first baseman Chris Carter to take over for weak hitting Daric Barton. They also signed Bartolo Colon, which was going good until he was suspended for PEDs. The pitchers are vastly different from last year, with only Brandon McCarthy, Grant Balfour, and Brett Anderson playing big roles on this year's team. Anderson recently came back from Tommy John surgery. I didn't expect the A's to stay in the race, but it's September now, and they are in the wild card lead.

The Orioles were another team not expected to do much this year. But they already have more wins now than they did for all of last year. The Orioles have actually allowed 35 more runs than they have scored this year. But, they have been terrific in one run games, going 24-7. They are pretty much of opposite of the Cardinals this year. The Orioles are also coming off a 18-9 August.

I thought the Orioles had a good core of players in Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, JJ Hardy, and Nick Markakis. Chris Davis has also had a big year for them. They have had a lot of players come in and out this season, with a total of 51 players making an appearance this year. One addition was veteran slugger Jim Thome. This will likely be Thome's last season, and having his leadership has helped this team out. Baltimore's pitching is what I thought would hold them back, but its been decent enough to win games. Their bullpen has been great, led by closer Jim Johnson, setupmen Darren O'Day, and Troy Patton.

Ten pitchers have made a start for the Orioles this year. New additions Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel have been their best pitchers this year, but Hammel has been hurt. Tommy Hunter and Jake Arrieta pitched badly enough to be demoted, and Brian Matusz was moved to the bullpen. Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez pitched well after replacing those guys, and Zack Britton has looked better this year. Joe Saunders was recently traded for, and Randy Wolf was signed, giving them two more options for the rotation. It's not a great staff by no means, but it's been good enough to win games.

There is still a month to go, but this would be the AL wild card game if the season ended today. Manager Bob Melvin and Buck Showalter have done a terrific job with their ballclubs. I don't think too many people expected the O's and A's to be better than the Red Sox and Angels at this point in the season.

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