What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I’m a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
While the Angels and Rangers were the ones in the AL West making the biggest splashes in the offseason, it was the A’s who quietly and effectively pieced together a team that, through their improbable pitching staff, beat the odds to finally win it all.
The A’s, a rag-tag bunch of baseball misfits, went on to win 20 straight games…oh wait, sorry, wrong story…
On paper, the A’s rotation wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring to their fans, but by early June they realized that they had something special going on. Led by Brandon McCarthy, his 3.30 ERA and 50-percent ground ball rate, the entire rotation stepped up and carried the weight of their championship run on their shoulders. Dallas Braden had a successful return from surgery to post a 3.76 ERA while effectively keeping opposing batters off his mound thanks to an above average 82-percent strand rate (percentage of runners left on base). Brett Anderson was the big second-half boost to the rotation, as he returned from Tommy John surgery to post a 3.50 ERA with a 55 percent ground ball rate and about 2.5 strikeouts to every walk issued. The biggest surprise, however, was the meteoric rise of Jarrod Parker, the pitching prospect attained in exchange for established starter Trevor Cahill. While it took Parker some time to refine his command and adjust to life in the big leagues, by mid-July, he was striking out batters at a rate of almost one per inning pitched, a rate that he would sustain throughout the rest of the season.
The bullpen, the other half to the championship pitching staff that posted a 3.60 team ERA, was led by Grant Balfour and his 2.55 ERA with 30 saves. Young strikeout artist Fautino De Los Santos stepped up as well, striking out over 33 percent of the batters he faced. Brian Fuentes, no longer allowed to face right-handed batters, reluctantly took to his new role, but found success with a 3.22 ERA.
Though the offense wasn’t exactly one of the most prolific in the league, the A’s managed to master the art of the platoon, giving them an ample advantage, which translated to enough runs to win the west. The left field platoon of Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes combined to hit .293/.379/.477 with 22 home runs and 83 RBI. Josh Reddick saw most of the team’s at bats in right field, but he, combined with Gomes and Collin Cowgill, combined to hit .282/.344/.440 with 18 home runs and 78 RBI. The most surprising signing of the offseason, Manny Ramirez (one year at the league minimum), returned to the game of baseball after serving his 50 game suspension to post a .388 OBP while still flashing some power (12 home runs) and actually becoming a leader in the clubhouse. Another surprise was the progression of third baseman Scott Sizemore, who hit 15 home runs while posting an above average .355 OBP and playing good defense at the hot corner.
Defense helped this team in a big way, led by the up-the-middle combination of Cliff Pennington at short, Jemile Weeks at second and Coco Crisp in center.
Of course, the A’s probably would not have won the division if not for the misfortune of the other teams in their division. The Rangers rotation fell apart thanks in part to Yu Darvish’s second half fade, the failed progression of Derek Holland and the failed transition of Neftali Feliz from bullpen to rotation. Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler combined to miss over 150 games, which, on top of regressions from Mike Napoli and Michael Young, allowed the A’s to sneak by them in September. The Angels ran into a string of injury issues, one of which cost their newly acquired first baseman, Albert Pujols, over 30 games. C.J. Wilson regressed to the tune of a 3.97 ERA and Ervin Santana tried, but failed to pitch through elbow issues.
The A’s took advantage of the misfortunes of these teams by winning the vast majority of their inter-division games.
Unlike the A’s teams of the early 2000s, this squad powered it’s way through the playoffs on the strength of their pitching and the clutch hitting of catcher Kurt Suzuki, who took home World Series MVP honors.
The A’s, with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, beat the odds to win it all in 2012. Perhaps one day someone might write a story about how they managed to win so many games with such little money.