Here’s to old friends and new.
A combination of new acquisitions, returns from injury, and rookie callups have infused the Oakland A’s with a late-season boost that has put them within one game of the Texas Rangers, who come to the Town for a high-stakes three game series.
After a mid-season lull, the A’s have roared back to life. They took three of four from a Tigers team considered World Series favorites by oddsmakers, even trouncing them 14-4 with a 21-hit barrage in one game. The Tampa Bay Rays–no slouches themselves, and a possible first-round opponent for the Athletics–were just turned out of town in a rout, unceremoniously swept 3-0.
How has this happened? What’s the secret?
In one way, Oakland’s recent success is indicative of Beane’s master strategy for the year: to be deeper than everyone else, with quality contributors up and down the roster, and even in the minor leagues.
- Sonny Gray has been electrifying since being called up to replace the struggling Tommy Milone. With a stature, motion, and demeanor that reminds me of no one more than the young Tim Hudson, Gray has struck out 9.51/9IP with a sterling 2.51 FIP. Gray, along with the erstwhile Grant Green, was one of two call-ups supposed to help the A’s this summer. He’s done that.
- Alberto Callaspo came over to the A’s from the in-division Angels early in August, for INF prospect Grant Green. At the time, it was a trade that elicited serious doubt–and the jury will be out on this one until the world can see for certain what Grant Green is capable of at the major league level. However, it was clear that the A’s had seen enough of Green’s immature defense to know that he wasn’t going to help them this year–and, in a move clearly made with November in mind, Green was moved for Callaspo. While Green was moved around the diamond because he couldn’t play anywhere, Callaspo may move around because he can play anywhere. He should start at second against lefties and spell Donaldson at third. At the plate Callaspo’s no slugger, but will ideally hit .270 with a high OBP–exactly what he’s done since his arrival in Oakland.
- Stephen Vogt and Dan Otero are callups from Sacramento who, while not exactly huge prospects, are the kinds of quality stopgaps that can keep a team like Oakland in the race while starters are hurt. Vogt has a better arm than either Jaso or Norris behind the plate, and has some pop, while Otero–the RiverCats closer–has provided stellar relief in limited appearances so far.
- Kurt Suzuki left the A’s last year after struggling at the dish all season, but he left ranked third for Oakland catchers in WAR all-time. The recent injuries to Norris and Jaso necessitated his return, and he and Vogt have formed an effective platoon in the recent Oakland model. It’s unclear what will happen when/if the starters return, but we’re glad to have Kurt back.
- Brett Anderson is back from injury and, for now, appears to be getting back into shape by pitching out of the bullpen. It’s anyone’s guess whether he will return to starting this year; that would seem to depend on his health–which is fragile–and on the necessity thereof. If Straily, Griffin, and Gray can provide adequate back-end support, perhaps Melvin sees Anderson as more useful out of the pen. Nonetheless, I can’t help but think this team has much better chances if it can throw Parker-Colon-Anderson in a playoff series.
- Daric Barton is, as you may have heard, unkillable. The first baseman–equally reviled by A’s fans and beloved in the saber-community–is back with the A’s, mostly because Brandon Moss has moved to the outfield with Josh Reddick on the disabled list. Barton plays a killer first base and–you guessed it–gets on base. He’s struggling at the plate–what did you expect?–and you have to relate that back to a .250 BABIP this year. Ultimately, Barton’s hitting fewer line drives than ever, so you have to hope this is a small-sample problem rather than the career-trend it appears to be. Either way, the A’s have been winning, so I haven’t turned on him yet!