Underdog Athletics continue winning ways in 9-8 frenzy

Imagine two teams. For imagination’s sake, we’ll call them Team A and Team B. Looking at the two teams, and the two paths they have taken to get to the points they are at, it is hard to believe your eyes when you look at the standings,which place them only a half game apart.

Starting in the offseason of 2011-2012, Team A signed the consensus best player our generation has ever seen, to the tune of $240 million over 10 years. Hours later, they signed the best pitcher on the free agent market for $87.5 million. As if that wasn’t enough, they already had on their roster one of the Cy Young favorites, a rookie who very well may win MVP, and a second year slugger on pace to hit over 40 home runs. And by the way, they also traded for another ace pitcher at the trade deadline. All of this brings the payroll of Team A to about $200 million for this year.

Now look at Team B. Their payroll is a little more than $50 million. Their active roster contains only four players who were on the 2011 Opening Day roster. In the offseason, they lost their closer, and would later go on to lose their fan favorite catcher, just to name a few. They made some relatively under-the-radar outfield signings,and then paid an uncharacteristically large $36 million over four years for a risky Cuban defector. Now what if I told you that entering Wednesday’s game, Team B was actually 1/2 game ahead of Team A in the standings?

As you may have figured out, Team A is the Los Angeles Angels, and Team B is the Oakland Athletics, and the A’s held a 1/2 game lead on the Angels entering Wednesday’s game. A’s relief pitcher Jerry Blevins credits the team’s success to great team chemistry. He says that the lack of expectations for this year’s team propelled them to try and prove all of the critics wrong, and that is exactly what they have done. The interesting thing about this team is that there are no superstars. The credit for the team’s success can be spread all around.

Blevins said that the excitement of the season began with all the hype surrounding the signing of Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who has certainly backed up all the hype with his play on the field. Blevins also cites a great balance of experienced veterans such as utility man Brandon Inge, and energetic young players such as outfielder Josh Redick. Blevins and the bullpen have had to deal with the loss of one of the best closers in baseball, as Andrew Bailey went to the Red Sox this offseason.

However, this year, the A’s pitching has been stingy as ever and Blevins credits that to the entire bullpen unit stepping up to fill the void left by Bailey, especially Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook to secure the back end of the bullpen.

On Wednesday, these underdog A’s went up against one of the most talented teams in baseball in the form of the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels have Albert Pujols (a name I believe speaks for itself), along with the 21st century M&M boys in Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, and one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, which sports four pitchers who have at one point finished in the top 7 of a Cy Young vote (Weaver, Wilson, Greinke, Haren).

Wednesday’s game in Oakland featured Daniel Straily pitching for the A’s making his second career start, against former AL Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke, making his third start in red and white. Neither starter had his best stuff, as the final score was 9-8 A’s in a game that saw neither starting pitcher make it into the sixth inning. The ball was flying out of the Oakland Coliseum as seven home runs were hit between both sides, and the Angels became the first team since 1900 to hit at least five home runs and strike out at least 14 times in a nine-inning game.

However, the decisive blow came in the form of a two run homer off the bat of Chris Carter in the sixth inning, one of only two innings in which the A’s scored. That blast gave the A’s a 9-5 lead, which was just enough to hold on.  Following a Mark Trumbo solo homer in the 7th, Ryan Cook was able to contain a two-run, ninth-inning rally to just that, as the A’s walked away from a thriller with a 9-8 victory. In doing so, they expanded their lead on the Angels to 1 1/2 games and are now tied with the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles for the two American League Wild Card spots.