Somewhere in Hollywood, writers are cranking out a script for Moneyball: The Sequel. If not, they should be. The surprising Oakland A’s are not only chasing a wild card spot, but a nine-game winning streak has them within sight of the Texas Rangers in the American League West.
At 76-57, the A’s are deadlocked with the Yankees for the second-best record in the AL. Oakland is three games behind Texas with 29 remaining.
Pitching remains the key reason why the A’s are thriving. They are third in the majors, and second in the AL behind Tampa Bay, with a staff ERA of 3.41. Oakland’s 3.72 starters’ ERA is sixth in the majors and second in the AL.
The A’s rotation is so deep that the team has not missed Bartolo Colon, who was 10-9 with a 3.43 ERA in 24 starts before he was suspended last month for the remainder of the season after testing positive for synthetic testosterone, which is a banned substance in Major League Baseball.
Brett Anderson, a 24-year-old left-hander who recently returned from a one year absence while recovering from Tommy John surgery, limited the Red Sox to one run and five hits over six innings on Sunday and improved to 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA and a 0.70 WHIP in three starts.
A.J. Griffin, a 24-year-old right-hander, spent time on the disabled list but is back in the rotation and is 4-0 with a 2.26 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP in nine starts.
The A’s are on so such a roll that 23-year-old right-hander Jarrod Parker was knocked around for five runs and eight hits over five innings against Cleveland in his last start, but he still was credited with a victory. Parker’s off night was rare based on his overall numbers, which feature a 9-7 record and a 3.72 ERA in 23 starts.
Tommy Milone, a 25-year-old left-hander who entered the season with five Major League appearances (all starts last year with Washington), is 11-9 with a 3.73 ERA in 25 starts. Milone, who starts on Monday against the Los Angeles Angels, can tie the franchise record for wins by a rookie pitcher which is held by Chris Codiroli (1983) and Joe Blanton (2005).
The “old man” of the bunch, 29-year-old right-hander Brandon McCarthy, also returned from the DL last month and has been impressive, allowing two runs in each of his last two outings, both of which were wins. Overall, he is 8-5 with a 3.10 ERA in 17 starts.
As good as the A’s rotation is, the club’s bullpen is even better. Oakland tops the AL with a 2.80 ERA and second in the majors only to Cincinnati (2.78 ERA).
What is especially remarkable about the success of Oakland’s bullpen is the lack of a true closer. Ryan Cook, a 25-year-old right-hander who was acquired from Arizona last off-season, is 6-2 with a 2.35 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP and a .167 batting average against, but he has 13 saves in 20 opportunities. He was moved into a key set-up role and veteran right-hander Grant Balfour was inserted into the closer’s spot. He is 2-2 with a 2.64 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP and a .161 opponent’s batting average, but most importantly he has earned 15 saves in 17 chances.
In typical Billy Beane fashion, the A’s pen has also received contributions from mostly unknown players like Evan Scribner, Pedro Figueroa, Sean Doolittle, Jerry Blevins and Travis Blackley (who has a 3.97 ERA as a starter and a 3.28 ERA as a reliever).
Over the last month, the A’s have been scoring more runs, especially in their three-game sweep of the Red Sox, in which they outscored Boston, 33-5, including a 20-2 rout on Friday.
Though they are 29th out of 30 Major League teams in overall hitting, the A’s have inched up the rankings in runs with 573, which is 17th in the majors and ahead of two teams that are also in the AL wild card race – Baltimore and Tampa Bay.
Leading the team is 26-year-old Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes, a rookie who has a .297 average with 16 home runs, 65 RBI, 14 stolen bases and a .849 OPS.
Josh Reddick, a 25-year-old right fielder that Oakland received from Boston in the Andrew Bailey trade, worked out of a mid-season slump and is hitting .381 with three home runs and 11 RBI over his last 10 games. Overall, he has a .260 average, 28 home runs , 74 RBI, 25 doubles, five triples and a .825 OPS.
At first base, manager Bob Melvin is getting production from the right-handed hitting Chris Carter (.272, 13 home runs, 32 RBI) and the left-handed hitting Brandon Moss (.257, 15 home runs, 34 RBI and a .359 average with three home runs and 10 RBI over his last 10 games).
Oakland’s team batting average is just .237, but the roster includes eight players with at least 10 home runs.
In the postseason, exceptional pitching often stops marginal hitting, so the A’s will have to rely upon its strong rotation and bullpen, and scratch enough runs together to win. Of course, the playoffs are not a sure thing, though Oakland does own a two-game lead over Baltimore for the top wild card position.
The original “Moneyball” season followed a script with the A’s boasting a stellar rotation (which gained little attention in the movie), assembling a rag tag lineup and embarking upon a torrid streak in the second half of the season (including a 20-game winning streak) before losing 3-2 to the Minnesota Twins in the American League Divisional Series.
Though they will not win 103 games like the “Moneyball” A’s, the 2012 version is authoring a similar season to date, especially with the strong pitching, a scrappy lineup and a prolonged winning streak in the heat of the pennant race.
“Moneyball: The Sequel” could feature at least an American League pennant if the A’s continue to score enough runs to support their enviable rotation and bullpen.