On Sunday, the Oakland A’s topped the Minnesota Twins 11-7 for their 93rd win of the season and clinched first place in the AL West for the second year in a row.
For the first time since a run of four straight playoff appearances ended in 2003, the A’s have reached postseason play in back-to-back years.
The Texas Rangers, preseason division favorites for many, lost to the Kansas City Royals, dropping their record to 84-71. After leading the division for a good portion of the year, including Sept. 1, a 5-15 month has put Texas in a battle for the Wild Card. For the second straight season, the Rangers have collapsed down the stretch.
While these two teams did not look evenly matched on April 1, 2013, despite Oakland’s second half push last year, nobody picked the A’s as the superior team on April 1, 2012. With the Rangers following up back-to-back World Series appearances with two straight September collapses, what happened in the AL West to change these team’s fortunes?
The Oakland A’s have taken a lot of grief from opposing fans and members of the media over the last decade because of Moneyball. Every time an A’s player doesn’t walk it seems like someone is ready to make a snarky comment.
What’s missing in people’s assessment of the team is that the full title is Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. Moneyball strategy is a way to combat a low payroll with moves, whatever they may be, that could improve the team for an affordable price.
One tactic used in the book that was repeated in 2012 was trading a closer, in this case Andrew Bailey, for players that were less replaceable. Last year that player was Josh Reddick. Reddick broke out in 2012 with a 32 home run campaign.
Similarly, Brandon Moss, in just 84 games launched 21 homers. Combined with Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes and a solid starting rotation, the A’s were able to outlast the Rangers, taking the division on the last day of the regular season, their only day in first place in 2012.
This year holds a similar story in terms of breakout players: Coco Crisp has broken out for a 22 home run season in 2013 after hitting 27 home runs total during his first three seasons in green and gold.
Josh Donaldson, 2007 first round pick of the Cubs, has hit .307/.388/.510 and looked like one of the best third basemen in the game.
Reddick has battled injuries, but Moss has had another solid season as a 29-year-old picked up as a minor league free agent after the 2011 season.
Bartolo Colon, in the season he turned 40, one year after a suspension for PEDs, has put up and ERA under 3.00 for the first time since 2002. Rookie Dan Straily has allowed two earned runs or fewer in seventeen of his first 26 starts this year. Jarrod Parker, who had a brutal April, has pitched to a 3.09 ERA since the calendar turned to May.
The A’s also found a replacement for Reddick deserving of the breakout player of the year honors: Josh Donaldson. The 2007 first round pick of the Cubs, acquired as part of the return for Rich Harden, has hit .307/.388/.510 and looked like one of the best third basemen in the game.
Playing in the same division as Adrian Beltre, that’s saying something. Donaldson has been especially valuable down the stretch, hitting nearly .400 and getting on base half the time he stepped up to the plate. Five of his 24 home runs have come in September and he has scored 19 times in 20 games, his highest total in any month, through Sunday.
When Josh Hamilton signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this past winter, the Rangers knew he would be tough to replace. While Hamilton has been a disappointment in LA, the offense he provided during his years in Arlington hasn’t been replaced.
Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, David Murphy, and Mitch Moreland have all taken steps back from their performance in 2012. Jurickson Profar, their top prospect and “break glass in case of emergency” player has not yet made an impact at the major league level hitting just .232/.307/.324 while playing third base and left field in addition to his natural position, shortstop.
Nelson Cruz, in the midst of his best year since 2010, was suspended in August as part of the investigation into Biogenesis, the Miami clinic providing PEDs to ballplayers.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, pitching hasn’t been the answer either: Yu Darvish has been excellent as staff ace, but the rotation behind him has not been as impressive.
Adrian Beltre, of course, has remained excellent, hitting .317/.372/.505 and hitting at least 28 home runs for the fourth straight season. But the offense that lead the league in runs last year and hadn’t placed lower than fourth in runs since 2009, finds itself in seventh place.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, pitching hasn’t been the answer either: Yu Darvish has been excellent as staff ace, but the rotation behind him has not been as impressive. Alexi Ogando has battled injuries and thrown under 100 innings, Matt Harrison made just two starts before missing the season with shoulder troubles, Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch have combined for 34 low-quality starts, and trade acquisition Matt Garza has an ERA approaching 5.00 since being acquired.
Derek Holland has been OK this year, but the Rangers have lost each of his four starts in September, including two games to Oakland and one to Tampa Bay, their competition in the division and for a Wild Card spot.
While Oakland A’s skipper Bob Melvin may be on the cusp of back-to-back Manager of the Year awards, his counterpart in Texas, Ron Washington could find himself looking for work at the end of the season.
Joe Nathan is having another fine season and heads into the final week of September with 40 saves and an ERA under 2.00. Because he’s the closer and usually saved for games the team is already winning, between Sept. 1 and Sept. 16, Nathan made just two appearances. It’s hard for a pitched to help his team without taking the mound.
Which brings us to what might be a difference maker in the AL West: the managers. While Oakland A’s skipper Bob Melvin may be on the cusp of back-to-back Manager of the Year awards, his counterpart in Texas, Ron Washington could find himself looking for work at the end of the season.
Washington was at the helm for two World Series losses, and now will have overseen two late-season collapses, managing his team right out of postseason discussion.
The Rangers were just one strike away from defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 World Series but let the Cardinals come back to win. The year before they ran into the Giants.
Terry Francona had two World Series rings with the Red Sox, helped break the 86-year championship drought, and oversaw one collapse in September 2011 and then was done.
Ron Washington may not have the rings on his hand, he may not have the most talent, and postseason series are not always won by the best team, but to watch his team enter September competing for the division and fall short, he may not have the benefit of the doubt anymore either.
Cross-posted at The Sports Post