Oakland has gone through tough times before, is shaping up to be club Beane envisioned
By Richard Justice
ARLINGTON -- This might end up being one of Billy Beane's finest hours, and don't you hate it how the smart guys end up being right so often? First, though, things have to work out a certain way for the Oakland A's and their general manager. Yes, that means lots of October baseball.
OK, take a deep breath. The A's are still seven games below .500 at 34-41 and trail the Astros by 8 1/2 games in the American League West. On Thursday, they snapped a string of 48 straight days in last place with a 6-3 victory over the Rangers.
On the other hand, there could be something cooking with these A's. There's some history for these things in Oakland.
In 2001, the A's turned an 8-18 start into a 94-42 finishing kick. And in 2002, they snapped out of a 20-26 start to go 83-33. That season included a 20-game win streak and became part of a successful little book and movie, "Moneyball."
Deja vu again?
At the moment, Oakland might be the AL's best team even at 34-41. Take a moment to wrap your mind around that one.
Ridiculous? Sure, maybe. But the context is impressive. At 14-30, Beane's massive offseason overhaul appeared to have blown up in his face. Injuries were a huge factor, but it's a bottom-line business.
Since starting 14-30, the A's have gone 20-11. They may now have one of the two or three best rotations in the AL and a very deep, very good lineup.
There are still issues with the bullpen and defense, but the A's are close to being pretty much the team Beane expected them to be. And in a division in which every team has an issue or two, Oakland has pluses that could outweigh its minuses.
The ability to hold things together at 14-30 is also a nice statement about the work of A's manager Bob Melvin. His ability to get a consistent, professional effort from a group going through the toughest of times speaks volumes about his leadership gifts.
Melvin's poise and consistency have made him one of baseball's most respected men, and all Oakland's rough start did was remind the world how good he is at his job.
So can the A's still make something out of this season? Thursday was a significant step in that the A's moved percentage points ahead of the Mariners and out of last place. So all they have to do is keep going. And going.
There's some precedence outside of Oakland, too.
The 2005 Astros were 15-30 and 14 games out of first place when they went on a 74-43 sprint to the finish line. They clinched a playoff berth on the final weekend of the regular season and ended up winning their first and only National League pennant. In doing that, they were defying almost a century of history, so the A's can find only modest comfort in the 2005 Astros.
On the other hand:
• A's starters are 17-7 with a 2.37 ERA during this 20-11 stretch. That's the best ERA in the Majors. Only the Pirates (18-7) have more victories.
• If the AL Cy Young Award balloting were today, Sonny Gray probably would win. He won his ninth game on Thursday, and in 16 starts, he's allowed two runs or fewer 12 times. The A's are 9-7 in Gray's 16 starts, 25-34 with anyone else.
• Only the Blue Jays, Rockies and Yankees have scored more runs since the A's got hot. Oakland's offense has gone from scoring 4.2 runs a game during 14-30 to 5.0 during 20-11.
• Leadoff man Billy Burns, who spent the opening month in the Minors, has sparked the A's in every way. He has 10 stolen bases, 23 runs and has a .382 OBP since May 23. Meanwhile, catcher Stephen Vogt's .953 OPS is second only to Miguel Cabrera in the AL.
For the A's, it could be as simple as staying healthy. Oakland has used the disabled list 17 times, which is just one fewer time than all of 2014.
Through the tough times, the A's kept going hard, kept believing they were better than their record. And now, as outfielder Josh Reddick said, "We're clicking on all cylinders."
Best of all, the contributions are coming from every corner of the room.
"It gives you that group sense that we can do this," Melvin said.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.