5 Things We’ve Learned from Oakland Athletics’ First 25 Games

5 Things We’ve Learned from Oakland Athletics’ First 25 Games

Sonny Gray Oakland Athletics
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The mostly un-talked about Oakland Athletics have re-emerged as a perennial contender in the top-heavy AL West. The A's are loaded with premier pitching talents and a lineup capable of registering crooked numbers on the scoreboard on any given night. Oakland is for real. The first six-plus weeks of the 2014 MLB season proved that. The A's currently sit atop their division with an outstanding plus-53 run differential.

5. Josh Donaldson is a Concrete Difference-Maker

Josh Donaldson Oakland Athletics
Kelley L. Cox-USA TODAY Sports

5. Josh Donaldson is a Concrete Difference-Maker

Josh Donaldson
Kelley L. Cox-USA TODAY Sports

After a breakout season in 2013, some baseball pundits and fans alike wondered if Donaldson was capable of duplicating high-caliber production at third base. He hasn't disappointed expectations this season, leading the team with a respectable .266 batting average with seven home runs and 28 RBI. His ability to consistently produce runs in the middle of Oakland's order makes him a concrete difference-maker who continues to shine.

4. Yoenis Cespedes is a Potential MVP Candidate

Yoenis Cespedes Oakland Athletics
Kelley L. Cox-USA TODAY Sports

4. Yoesnis Cespedes is a Potential MVP Candidate

Yoenis Cespedes Oakland Athletics
Kelley L. Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Although the A's don't flaunt a team loaded with fat batting averages, they boast a lineup capable of driving in runs at will. Cespedes is a solid example of that. The 28-year-old Cuban native owns a .258 batting average, but has also registered the highest OPS on the team (.863) through the first six weeks of the season. Cespedes is flashing signs of consistent improvement, raising his batting average by 35 points over the last three weeks.

3. Scott Kazmir Was a Solid Investment

Scott Kazmir Oakland Athletics
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

3. Scott Kazmir Was a Solid Investment

Scott Kazmir Oakland Athletics
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Free-agent acquisition Scott Kazmir endured a rocky season with the Cleveland Indians in 2013, posting a 10-9 record with a 4.04 ERA. General manager Billy Beane didn't detract from signing Kazmir over the offseason, a deal which is paying huge dividends. Kazmir has been stellar through seven starts, recording a 4-1 record with a 1.038 WHIP in 44.1 innings pitched. He's allowed just two home runs on the season and seldom allows base runners.

2. Bullpen is One of the Best in Baseball

Luke Gregerson Oakland Athletics
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

2. Bullpen is One of the Best in Baseball

Luke Gregerson Oakland Athletics
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The backbone of the Athletics' roster is their bullpen. Oakland owns the fourth most efficient bullpen in the big leagues. They've combined to record a 2.58 ERA and a .210 batting average in relief efforts over 115 innings of work. Oakland holds a distinct advantage over opponents in close games because of their bullpen's ability to disallow teams from scoring. While the closer position remains in flux, the bullpen as a unit is strong.

1. Sonny Gray Might Be the Best Pitcher in MLB

Sonny Gray Oakland Athletics
Kelley L. Cox-USA TODAY Sports

1. Sonny Gray Might Be the Best Pitcher in MLB

Sonny Gray Oakland Athletics
Kelley L. Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Dodgers' left-handed phenom Clayton Kershaw frequently gets the nod as the best pitcher in the game, but Sonny Gray is deserving of being in that conversation. Gray owns a 4-1 record with a stingy 2.17 ERA in eight starts this season. Gray has received enormous help from his defense (3.32 FIP), but remains a clear-cut Cy Young Award candidate. He's the type of pitcher that can carry a team in the playoffs.

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