Two months from now, if sports teams from Oakland and Cleveland were to clash, I would be firmly on the opposite side of this battle.Such is life for the Wandering Fan. As it is, the Indians, my first sports love but not my strongest, must duel the Athletics at the Coliseum of Many Names this week, each game more important than the last. Or at least AS important.
The A’s are locked in a tight race for the AL West Crown, slap fighting the Texas Rangers for supremacy with a blend of dazzling pitching, offense acquired from crafty trades and shrewd dealings, and a little dash of Park Effect. The Coliseum is known to be a pitcher’s park with its oceans of foul territory grass, bizarrely broad outfield and high walls.
At first blush upon looking at the A’s numbers, you wonder how they are contending with a very good Rangers team. Sure, Texas has seen its share of injuries and then some, but the A’s have one starting pitcher with an ERA+ over 100, though three others are sitting in the 90’s. They’re still below league average, while Bartolo Colon steams along at 139, another banner year for the portly pitcher. Their offense is right about league average and Josh Reddick, one of their best hitters from a year ago and a surprise 32 home run producer, just doubled his homer total for the year by hitting five in the space of three days. For those counting, that gives him 10 for the year.
Or consider Josh Donaldson, their third baseman. This is his third season in the majors and his first as a full-time starter, having amassed 328 career PA’s over 2010 and 2012. He missed 2011 entirely. Over these first two years he had a collective 84 OPS+ with 10 homers. He struck out a lot and didn’t walk much. Now he’s one of the best third basemen in a stacked American league, slashing at .297/.376/.487 and playing great defense all the while, a matter of course if you play on the A’s. It’s the white shoes. He did mash at triple-A Sacramento, a flat 1.000 OPS a year ago, but it’s a hitter’s league so who knows what he’d be. Turns out it’s really good, another feather in Billy Beane’s cheap, gas station cap.
There’s really a wonderful collection of flawed players here, almost a Land of Misfit Toys for baseball. Brandon Moss can’t hit lefties worth a damn, but he’s still popped 18 homers. Jed Lowrie has always shown flashes of talent that’s been subverted by injuries issues and he’s logged 112 games so far this year while being one of the biggest offensive contributors on the team with a .766 OPS and 39 extra-base hits. Coco Crisp has a delicious name and a great glove in center along with speed on the base paths and a decent (read: about league average) bat. It’s an eclectic group of players few wanted, just like the A’s have had pretty much their entire existence, and right now, as it occasionally did in the Charlie Finley and Connie Mack days, it’s working.
Then there’s the mighty Yoenis Cespedes, our most recent Home Run Derby King. We all knew of his power before he came to the states, but damn that was frightening. Rawling’s must have said something mean about his mother. In Real Life, he had a long home run drought, hitting two on June 21st against the Mariners then none until July 29th. With how cavernous the Coliseum is he’s the kind of hitter they need – no doubters every time he hits a bomb. He’s missed some time with nagging injuries and hasn’t been 100% all year so his offensive numbers are down (.230/.296/.437) but even so he’s capable of anything. A five tooler if ever there was one. I’m a fan of his and hopefully he’ll stay strong and lead this team to glory.
Baseball being what it is, loaded with games and all, it’s plainly hard to put too much emphasis on a series in mid-August. The Indians have done alright against contending teams, but if they can’t handle the A’s they don’t much have a shot for beating the Detroit Tigers. The offense is fine – fifth in runs scored this year and they scored 14 in Minnesota in a series that included getting shut out. Carlos Carrasco is proving me and others at Wahoo’s on First wrong, but it’s still on the rest of this pitching staff to be the difference makers. The defense is what it is to this point – you end up like this when you have a bunch of converted infielders manning key spots. It’s a time for scoreboard watching, the Tigers can’t win them all (right?) and they’ve shown weakness in Chicago the last couple days, while the Royals are lurking. They face each other this weekend, and for the life of me I can’t decide how I’d like that series to go. A KC sweep would probably be more helpful but the boys in blue worry me. So yeah, go team go.