|Will the A's be celebrating a playoff berth later this season? (US Presswire)|
On June 10, the A's found themselves nine games under .500 and in last place in the AL West. They were but a single game from having the worst record in the American League.
Since that point, however, the A's have gone 23-9 and at this writing are just a half-game off the wild-card pace. Suffice it to say, none but the most blindly optimistic of Oakland fans saw this coming.
The question at this point is obvious: can the A's keep it going and perhaps even land a berth in the postseason? While the odds are modestly against Oakland's claming a wild-card spot (let's assume the AL West title is not a realistic goal), it's an obvious possibility. Here, then, is what needs to happen if those plucky A's are going to shock the baseball world ...
- Maintain the progress that's been made on offense. The A's have a .750 team OPS since that June 10 low point versus a .643 mark up until then.
- Keep playing great defense. Right now, the A's rank first in the AL in defensive efficiency, which is a measure of the percentage of balls in play that a team converts into outs. The A's also pace their league in defensive efficiency even after you adjust the numbers to reflect each team's home park. To boot, they're doing a good job of turning line drives into outs. Blind luck or something to do with defender skill and positioning? It's probably some of both.
- Keep playing great infield defense. The A's this season have allowed a .210 batting average on balls in play on grounders, while the AL as a whole has allowed a .234 mark. As well, the A's lead the majors in double-place percentage. Maybe getting Cliff Pennington back from injury is more critical than you might think, given his lackluster offensive numbers? The safe assumption is that the Oakland infield defense is at its critical best when Pennington, Jemile Weeks and Brandon Inge are working together.
- Keep being stingy with home runs. In 2012, no pitching staff has done a better job of keeping the ball in the park. Despite giving up a fairly high percentage of fly balls, Oakland has allowed the fewest round-trippers in the AL. They also boast the lowest HR/fly-ball percentage in all of baseball. There may be some luck baked into those numbers, but there's also some native skill. That needs to continue.
- Consider moving Bartolo Colon to the bullpen. Colon's ongoing renaissance is an appealing story, but right now he's the soft underbelly of the Oakland rotation. He has, by a somewhat comfortable margin, the highest ERA of any current A's starter, and with Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson set to return soon, Colon should lose his spot.
- Survive a tough remaining schedule. The bad news for the A's is that they have a pretty challenging docket of games ahead of them. They'll play the majority of their remaining games on the road, and the average winning percentage of their remaining opponents is .518. Of the 69 games left on the schedule, 50 come against teams with winning records, and seven more come against the not-half-bad Blue Jays. On the bright side, the A's this season are 31-26 against teams with a .500 record or better.
Over at CoolStandings.com, they give the A's a 38.9% chance of being a part of the postseason fray. Given the competition, that seems about right. So, yes, the odds are against it, but the A's have something far better than a puncher's chance. Who would've thought that on opening day? Indeed, who would've thought that on June 10?