What is Going On in Oakland?

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Yesterday the Oakland Athletics pulled off a 4 game sweep of the New York Yankees at the Coliseum, as usual by a walk-off hit and another 1 run victory. Especially worth noting that this was the first time a team had swept a 4 game set by winning all 4 games by the minimum margin.

How many people believed this was even possible. The last time the Yankees were in Oakland, they swept this Oakland A’s team who was currently in the midst of a 9 game losing streak.

How 2 months can change perception. Most people believed this Oakland team would play the season out just like that team which lost 9 straight in back in late May. Many picked them to lose 100 games, even one ESPN analyst even said he wouldn’t be surprised if they lost 120 games. Who wouldn’t agree with them? They traded away Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, two-thirds of this most recent Big 3, along with their closer Andrew Bailey and another consistent hitter in Ryan Sweeney away all for prospects.

But somehow this band of misfits, prospects and hold overs from last seasons team have jelled together in a surprising manner and have the A’s in a position many thought the A’s wouldn’t be in this time in the season. A 14-2 record in July along with a 5-1 record against the class of the American League, the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, during the most recent homestand leaves them sitting atop the Wild Card standings.

For A’s fans, they deserve this kind of run. Considering how far the franchise fell off after the 2006 playoff run, the years and players lost to injuries and trades, the fans deserve this reward. Even if it last for a few more weeks, months or even into October, this is a franchise that deserves it.

During the recent homestand against the Yankees, it brought back memories of those great A’s teams from 10 years ago. The same team that had Eric Chavez, who now is a utility player for the Yankees, and went to the playoffs 4 out of 6 years from 2000-2006. “It’s kind of the same ingredients, you know, when we were here,” said Chavez. “It’s good, young pitching, got some pretty good stars, it looks like. They’re kind of mixing in some pieces. Looks like they’re jelling right now.”

It’s something I think only Bob Melvin and his squad thought possible. Since taking over midseason after the abrupt but long overdue firing of Bob Geren, Melvin came in an instilled a new culture with this Athletics team.
It was evident after this homestand, the atmosphere at the coliseum, the confidence the players had against the giants of the AL. Despite ranking 27th in the league in runs, last in batting average, 28th in On-Base Percentage, and 25th in slugging percentage, they were able to win 5 straight games, all by 1 run, including 3 walk-off wins.
Despite those poor offensive statistics, the A’s are still one of the American League’s most exciting teams. They have allowed the least runs in the AL, 38 fewer than any club. Many skeptics believe that they are too young and cannot sustain this success the whole season.
It seems many experts just are waiting for midnight to strike for this cinderella. Something like the 1969 New York Mets, who now we all know as the Amazin’ Mets who won their first World Series title that summer or the 1991 Atlanta Braves, who had finished in last place the last 3 years before their magical run. Even in 2008, many believed the Rays who had never made the playoffs in their franchises’ young history believed they would fall apart down the stretch or the San Francisco Giants of 2010, many thought they were not strong enough offensively or their pitching would not hold up.
And now we look at these 2012 Athletics, who are playing through this summer with such confidence, swagger and the must-win scrappiness that all of the previous teams possessed.
“I don’t think there was anybody in the dugout or in the stands who didn’t think we were going to win,” said outfielder Seth Smith, whose 9th inning homerun tied the game and gave the A’s hope.
This kind of confidence reminds me of a similar A’s team from 10 years ago, which made a incredible streak of their own and won 20 straight games. That team, made famous by the Moneyball movie, had just lost their 2 best hitters in Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon, and their closer in Jason Isringhausen the offseason before, yet was able to go on a magical run of their own.
While this team may not be as talented as that team that one 20 straight, this team has the same fire, passion and confidence. Something that will help this team down the road and could even lead them to an unlikely playoff berth.
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