Well, it looks like the Cleveland Indians weren’t able to play the spoiler in the race for the AL West in Anaheim, but there’s still another chance coming up here to screw with the Wild Card. Dropping two of three to the Los Angeles Angels is no big thing because they’re really good with lots of money and good players, but now a new test arises for the Tribe. So they forge ahead, to the Bay Area and the Coliseum, home of the Oakland Athletics, a team that in structure resembles the Indians, or what the Indians should be.
As memorialized in the movie then book Moneyball the A’s have gotten by on a shoestring budget for, well, pretty much their whole existence. Back when Connie Mack was running things he had the Reserve Clause to count on, but he still ran it out of a shoebox, and it’s been that way every since. Charlie Finley had a two man scouting department and did most everything himself, leading to one of the most dominant teams ever in the early 1970’s, and even now general manager Billy Beane has pretty much the smallest budget in the majors to work with. He was able to tap into underutilized abilities early in his career but other, richer teams have proven that Moneyball plus money means winning. Beane has made a reputation of a trading maniac the last few years, ever searching for players that can give the A’s a chance and not cost much. Now with Oakland at 61-55 and percentage points ahead of the Angels in the Wild Card, he seems to have done it.
It’s a recipe the Indians should really try to follow. Looking at the A’s roster, they’ve stocked up on pitching in the draft while finding key hitters through trades and international free agency. This makes sense in a way; the brute force of pitching (velocity, that is) is not teachable, it’s what gets these young guys to the majors in the first place. Many more throwers come out of the draft than pitchers, and Beane seems to know that. Hitting is something you need seasoning though. For every Mike Trout or Albert Pujols that did it from day one there’s a host of Kevin Youkilises or Jose Bautistas that took years to finally be successful at the plate. You’d rather plug guys into the organization that already have some seasoning. Plus the bigger clubs that have more money always need pitching, so Billy can use that to his advantage. Case in point, Josh Reddick.
Reddick had a couple pretty good partial seasons with the Boston Red Sox, then he was traded for former Rookie of the Year closer Andrew Bailey. Bailey is out for the season while Reddick is posting an .818 OPS with 25 homers, plus he plays stupendous defense in right with a cannon on his left shoulder (you’d think it’d make swinging a bat harder). That’s 25 homers playing half your games in that cavern in the East Bay, too.
The other big bat was the surprise of the off-season in Yoenis Cespedes. The Cuban phenom was all question marks and tape-measure home runs coming to the majors this year, Beane seemingly gambling big and hoping his new slugger hadn’t just been feasting on bad Cuban pitching. Despite some injury issues, Cespedes has delivered. He makes the Coliseum seem small with his power hitting lasers all over the field, he’s notching an .860 OPS and like Reddick doing a fine job in the outfield. That’s the key with a Billly Beane team—they’re going to play defense. Cespedes and Reddick anchor the outfield while the shining gloves of Jemile Weeks, Cliff Pennington and Brandon Inge around the diamond. Inge is on the 15-day DL and Reddick just had a tooth pulled, so who knows what that will do to his power production. Is he such a gritty player he cracks teeth gritting them? That could be a career ender.
First base for the Athletics has been a black hole of power for years, but now it looks like they’ve found a solution. Chris Carter (1.009 OPS in 34 games this year) and Brandon Moss (.818 over 50 games played) have done the work guys like Daric Barton couldn’t and it’s shown on the scoreboard. Goes to show you, hitting well gets wins. Who knew.
As for the Indians, well, they were the offense we’ve seen a lot of lately in the Angels series. Not much power, and they really miss Travis Hafner. There’s a possibility we could see either Russ Canzler or Matt LaPorta, though with Cody Allen in the ‘pen that’s unlikely. It’s a little frustrating, even if I’m not the biggest LaPorta fan personally, that they don’t let him do something, anything. With Jose Lopez gone, why the heck not? Who could be worse than that? Somehow Brent Lillibridge decided to be a boss, hitting .273 with two homers his last 10 games. Alright, maybe more mid-level manager than boss, but Michael Scott was someone’s boss. Anyway, it says something when an offensive highlight is Brent Lillibridge, but I’ll leave it to you to decide what it is. Oh, and Grady Sizemore has completed running tests, now he just has to make it through a tack-hammer knee assault, and he should be okay. It’s unorthodox, but hey, it’s sports medicine. Liniment is a thing there.