2013 Oakland Athletics – The Best Team You’ve Never Watched

By Stephen Bonser
PSDC Contributor

Chances are, up until this postseason, you’ve watched fewer than two of the 2013 Oakland Athletics games. Obvious exceptions include A’s fans – which aren’t too common, given Oakland’s stellar 23rd place ranking in total attendance this year – and bored baseball fans with an MLB TV subscription like myself. Other than that, they’ve received little to no attention.

But why?

Coco-Crisp-Yoenis-Cespedes

Before the playoffs, before Sonny Gray’s gem and Stephen Vogt’s walk off, before a near-brawl with 20 outs in the ninth, before all of that, Oakland was locked in a tight race with Texas for the AL West lead. On my birthday, Sept. 6, they sat a half game behind Texas at 80-60. In those last three weeks and two days, Oakland went 16-6, including an emphatic weekend sweep over the Rangers. I missed those games, like most of America. And I’m not happy about that.

But why? Why did we miss those? Why couldn’t we be burdened to watch? Why couldn’t ESPN force us to watch on Sunday night or even Wednesday night?

One possible explanation? No star power. Sitting a firm 28th in total payroll, the A’s have managed to Moneyball their way to success yet again. Mind you, they don’t have the stars of Brad Pitt’s 2002 team. Guys like Miguel Tejada (AL MVP), Barry Zito (AL Cy Young), Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, that the movie conveniently forgot to mention AT ALL. No, this 2013 Oakland A’s team consists of players that only hardcore baseball fans could name off the top of their heads, like Seth Smith, Brandon Moss, Sonny Gray and Eric Sogard (most famous for his wife tweeting at Matt Garza). The closest players you could find to a “star” would be Coco Crisp or Yoenis Cespedes, if only because of the most incredible highlight video known to man. Throw in a rapidly aging and weight-gaining Bartolo Colon, a ferociously bearded Josh Reddick, a dark-horse, unnoticed MVP candidate Josh Donaldson and a bunch of guys with six figure salaries, and you’ve got a team that could contend for a World Series title.

What’s been the key to the A’s success so far? Well, for one thing, they’ve been phenomenal on the road. 44-37 may not seem like a great road record, but it’s good for a tie for second in the major leagues. They also did very well in close games, sitting at 30-20 in one-run games. They finished with a +142 run differential, good for fifth in the majors and third in the AL.

But those stats, impressive as they may be, don’t do justice to the previously mentioned names who have been instrumental to this success. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each piece is required to get the final product, and when one piece goes down, another is ready to step up and fill in.

The lineup was anchored by Donaldson, Crisp and Cespedes. Donaldson finished with a .301/.384/.499 mark, but possibly more impressive was that he hit .328 in innings 7-9, including three of the A’s eight walk-off hits in 2013. Crisp hit a career-high 22 home runs, five of them leadoff, and has been the sparkplug of the A’s offense and defense. Cespedes, despite a pedestrian .240 average, slugged .442, and got hot at the end of the season with a .314/.337/.540 mark in September with six HR and 19 RBIs.

Colon led the pitching staff with an 18-6 record and a 2.65 ERA, followed by AJ Griffin, Jarrod Parker and a laundry list of starters you’ve never heard of. One of the huge keys to Oakland’s success was closer Grant Balfour, who set an A’s franchise record for consecutive saves with 44 (breaking the great Dennis Eckersley’s record of 40), finishing with 38 on the year on just three blown saves.

Heading into October, momentum can make or break a team’s season. Just look at Atlanta, who coasted to a division title thanks to a hilariously awful division, and were the first team ousted in the division series. Oakland has all the key components to October success – clutch hitters in Donaldson and Cespedes (and apparently Stephen Vogt?), an ace (take your pick, Colon or Game 2 darling Sonny Gray), a hot closer in Balfour and momentum in the form of their 16-6 September record en route to the AL West title.

As Colon & Co. take the field in Game 5, millions of people, including me, will be tuning in to watch what I believe is more of a Moneyball team than the 2002 squad. Here’s to hoping they’ll do what that team couldn’t and seal the decisive game at the Coliseum. We missed out on a great regular season, but I know I’ll be watching now.

Finally.

Follow Stephen on Twitter: @21Slalom

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