No Joke: The ‘Mediocre’ A’s Might Just Win the AL West

by Jason Epstein

Last night’s 4–3 Athletics victory over the Rangers enabled Oakland to clinch a postseason berth and creep within one game of division-leading Texas with two games left to play. If the A’s win those games — their last of the regular season — they will capture the American League West. Heck, it is still possible, albeit unlikely, that they’ll win home-field advantage through the championship series.

To say that the A’s, who woke up this morning with a 92–68 record, have had a second half to remember is quite an understatement. Back on the Fourth of July, a Yankees fan who moonlights as a media analyst expressed joy on Facebook over the latest Boston calamity — a three-game sweep in Oakland. In his desire to pour salt in Red Sox Nation’s wound, he dismissively labeled the A’s “lowly.” On being informed that the club’s record was actually 41–42, the gentleman gave a little ground, conceding that the team that general manager Billy Beane had assembled for 2012 was “mediocre.” He then assured me that he devoted much of his free time to studying baseball and that the A’s were going nowhere.

After the “mediocre” A’s took four straight from his Bronx Bombers later that month, I politely asked the media analyst if he now wanted to walk back the term “mediocre.” I received no reply. Not wanting to be accused of trolling, I let it go . . . until this morning. I asked again for his thoughts but, alas, the communications guru remains in hiding.

In fairness, I know of no one back in March who picked the A’s to be a .500 club, let alone to challenge either the Angels or Rangers for the division crown. After all, Beane had spent the off-season dealing young pitching stars Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill, and Gio Gonzalez. On the surface, it appeared that the club was embarked on a rebuilding process that would not yield tangible benefits until at least 2014.

Well, with an all-rookie starting rotation that has posted the big leagues’ sixth-lowest earned run average, together with a lineup (anchored by 27-year-old Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes) that since the All-Star break has slugged more home runs than any other team, including the Yankees, Oakland has proven all of us spring training-doubters — not to mention those who were still dissing them in July — wrong.

The Rangers and A’s play game 2 of the series at O.Co Colisuem at 7:05 PDT.

Right Field

Brief chronicles of our sporting times.