The Oakland Athletics Forget How to Lose

By Peter Ellwood

The Oakland Athletics are not a very good baseball team. They’re an inexpensive baseball team (lowest Opening Day payroll), they’re a young baseball team (4th-lowest average age), but they are not a very good baseball team. Oakland was a team that traded Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Andrew Bailey in the offseason, bringing back a ransom of prospects in return. Once again, the Athletics were re-tooling for a youth movement that could be dreamt upon and set up the club for future success. The only players of interest to anyone outside of Oakland entering the season were Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon McCarthy.

Yet, Oakland has been the best team in baseball in the month of July. The Athletics have won 15 out of 17 games played. They lost one game to the Seattle Mariners, and one game to the Texas Rangers, but have won all the rest, including sweeps of the Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. On July 1st, Oakland was 13 games behind the Rangers in the AL West, and five games out of a playoff spot. Now, the Athletics are tied for second place in the AL West, just five games behind the Rangers, and are tied for the lead in the American League Wild Card race.

As a team, Oakland isn’t doing anything too incredible in the month of July. They are 13th in the American League in runs scored. They lead the league in ERA in the month of July. However, neither of those are so very different from what they have done all year. For the season, Oakland is last in runs scored and still the best in ERA.

The one thing that Oakland is doing is winning close games. Not just close games, one-run games. And mostly, not just one-run games, but one-run games they win on a walk-off. The swinging A’s have five walk-off wins in the month of July, and 11 walk-offs for the season, both best in the majors. Add in another three one-run wins in July, and the A’s have had one of the most entertaining months of the season.

Despite the praise received for the 2003 Moneyball team, Oakland has been a franchise stuck in between neutral and reverse for several years. Like clockwork, the Athletics have thrived off of the success of young pitching, but traded them away to rebuild on a budget for the never-arriving future. Mulder/Hudson/Zito was the original, followed by Harden/Haren/Blanton, followed by Cahill/Gonzalez/Anderson, and the current group is Parker/Milone/Blackley. All of them have been young, successful, and didn’t make it in Oakland past their arbitration years. Add in a stagnant mixed-bag offense every year, and it has been a recipe for unrealized hope limited by financial constraints. One day, the Athletics will no longer call Oakland home, and perhaps they will be able to advance past square one.

Unfortunately, the success that the Athletics have seen in July will all come to an end, and reality will sink in. The Athletics still aren’t a very good team. Winning one-run games or in walk-off fashion is not a sustainable skill. The pendulum will swing back the other way. Maybe it won’t, though, and maybe Oakland will continue to put together a magical run. Oakland may even make a trade or two at this year’s deadline to improve its 2012 squad. It is always worth the price of admission to see an underdog succeed, and for a franchise that doesn’t punch many tickets it would be refreshing to see them get to pass Go and collect $200 just this one time.

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