By Andy Lindberg
I love adventures, and any time I can couple an adventure with sports, it is the peak of the mountain for me. This past week I decided to take an adventure to the West Coast, a place I had never even been close to. From Sunday night, July 15 through Saturday night, July 21, I was in Oakland, CA devoting my time to rolling through the ‘hood and going to Oakland Athletics games. I went to five A’s games, to be exact.
It didn’t take long for me to become enthralled with the atmosphere in the concrete monolith known as O.co Coliseum. Never drawing large crowds, the passion for A’s baseball in Oakland is surprisingly palpable, made all the more entertaining for me by the fact that three ex-Red Sox make up the heart of the batting order. Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, and a resurgent Brandon Moss have become starting-nine staples on the east side of San Francisco Bay.
I was not once bored with watching the 2012 Athletics. They’re exciting, likable, and can they ever come up with timely hits. To this point in the season, the Oakland A’s have 11 walk-off hits. Brandon Hicks and Brandon Moss both had walk-off hits (a home run and a single, respectively) while I was in O-Town. For a team that is 51-44 on July 24, tied with the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim (STILL the most absurd name in baseball) for the second AL Wild Card spot, the A’s sport a league-worst .228 batting average. They are 27th in RBI with 344 and their batters have struck out 764 times, ninth most in baseball.
So why, pray tell, are the A’s a winning baseball team tied for a playoff spot in late July with a total payroll of $54.5M? The Red Sox are four games out of a wild card spot, yet have committed $173.2M to a team with a losing record (48-49) on July 24.
Along with timely hitting, the A’s have shown they can pitch, and pitch very well with young arms and an established bullpen. Pitching wins, and it shows in Oakland and allows the A’s lineup to come up with timely hits and ease the pressure off of struggling hitters. The A’s are fourth in baseball with a 3.37 ERA. They have only allowed 769 hits (good for 4th in baseball), have only allowed 321 earned runs (also tied for 4th), have only allowed 77 home runs (good for sole possession of 4th), and have a WHIP of 1.23 (good for 3rd in baseball). The A’s once again have a stockpile of young talent at the starting pitching position.
Twenty-five-year-old Tommy Milone is 9-6 with a 3.34 ERA and a 120 ERA+ (an ERA+ above 100 is considered above average). Twenty-three-year-old Jarrod Parker is 7-4 with a 3.00 ERA and 133 ERA+. Brandon McCarthy and Travis Blackley are both having exceptional years and 25-year-old Ryan Cook is enjoying his first All-Star season in the bullpen.
So what have the A’s done differently than Boston in order to win so much with a payroll roughly $120M LESS than the Red Sox’? First and foremost, even with limited funding, the A’s have not pursued overhyped free agents nor have they committed to trading away young talent under team control for “win-now” rental players.
I think back on Theo Epstein’s tenure in Boston and yes, the man helped build a two-time World Championship team, but many of the moves he made were, for lack of a better word, atrocious. Free agent pickups like Julio Lugo and John Lackey were and have been miserable. One of the worst trades I can remember was trading outfielder David Murphy for Eric “Going, Going” Gagne in 2007. Since 2007, Murphy has hit .280 in six years with Texas along with a .343 OBP and 106 OPS+ (again, above 100 is above average). He has 66 home runs and 48 stolen bases. After the trade, Murphy batted .343 for Texas for the rest of 2007. Eric Gagne, however, went 2-2 for Boston with a 6.75 ERA in 20 games and was, mercifully, not a postseason-ender that year. Carl Crawford is yet to be determined, but with how this season has gone and with rumors of Crawford being shopped for Hanley Ramirez, we can chalk that up to another poor Epstein move.
This offseason the A’s swapped outfielder Ryan Sweeney and closer Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox for outfielder Josh Reddick, a player I was screaming to keep knowing Crawford might not be 100% and also having that right-filed slot open. To this point in the season Andrew Bailey hasn’t pitched in the big leagues due to a thumb injury and Ryan Sweeney has batted .267 with no home runs and 14 RBI.
Meanwhile, in Oakland, Josh Reddick has been taking baseballs to Pound Town. While batting .271, Reddick has super-smashed 21 home runs and 19 doubles to go with 46 RBI. Hmm, I see a discrepancy in production from Sweeney and Bailey in that trade…
Let us not forget how the 2004 Red Sox came together as a team and gelled. Their clubhouse chemistry was amazing. This year, it is looking more like 25 players and 25 cabs. In Oakland, the clubhouse chemistry could not be better. Walk off’s are met with Reddick pies to the face and Gatorade baths. The team fights for every run they can scrap. The A’s are fun. The Red Sox are likely done.
Maybe it’s time Goliath took a lesson from David…