Oakland Athletics Remain Alive in AL West Race Despite Having Record Below .500

Oakland Athletics Remain Alive in AL West Race Despite Having Record Below .500 The Oakland Athletics are the worst second-place team in baseball, but they're not out of the race yet.

At 69-70, the A's are below .500 but sit just seven games back of the free-falling Texas Rangers in the AL West.

For Oakland, it has been and always will be about the pitching. The A's lead the AL with a 3.55 ERA and .243 opponents batting average.

Dallas Braden was the first A's pitcher to make headlines in 2010, throwing a perfect game on Mother's Day (May 9) against the Tampa Bay Rays.

But it's been young guns Trevor Cahill (15-6, 2.72 ERA) and Gio Gonzalez (14-8, 3.16 ERA) that have been the most dazzling Oakland hurlers throughout the season.

On offense, the A's don't have much to offer. Oakland is 25th in the major leagues in runs scored (564) and tied with the Seattle Mariners for dead last in home runs (89).

That's not to say the A's don't have some promising young offensive players, though. First baseman Daric Barton has emerged as a consistent threat at the plate with 30 doubles, 96 walks and a .399 on-base percentage. And center fielder Rajai Davis, who is second in the league with 43 steals, is always a menace to opposing pitchers when he reaches base.

As Oakland welcomes Boston to the Coliseum for a three-game set, Red Sox fans should expect a low-scoring but exciting weekend.

And as Joshua Russell from Money Ball Blog tells us, the A's are still very much alive and kicking in the playoff hunt.

NESN.com: Vin Mazzaro has been struggling, but his demotion to Triple-A in September is fairly unprecedented. Why do you think the A’s made this move?

Joshua Russell: I believe that Bob Geren was trying to send a message to Mazzaro and to the whole team. I think he believes that the A's are still in the playoff hunt (which they are) and he wants to give the team the best chance of winning. Mazzaro had been struggling as of late and I think the demotion was a signal that the players better bring their "A" game (no pun intended) every night or he'll find others who will. The challenge is that there is nobody on the current roster, including former Red Sox pitcher Boof Bonser, who I believe can fill Mazzaro's role and is ready to step in. But, that's in part what made this move so surprising. 

NESN.com: Who has been the A’s most impressive offensive player in 2010?

J.R.: Again, not a big surprise to Red Sox fans, but for me it has been Coco Crisp. I thought Crisp was brought in as a trading chip come the deadline. Even though he started the year on the DL and has had at least one other DL stint, the guy has shown me how versatile he is in the A's lineup. He's hitting .271, has eight home runs (tied for fourth on the team) and 24 stolen bases in 26 attempts. The guy has been the A's offensive catalyst.

NESN.com: What do you expect GM Billy Beane to do in the offseason to boost Oakland’s postseason chances for 2011?

J.R.: First of all, Billy has to feel good about his pitching staff. Even with the Ben Sheets bust of a signing, it has actually opened the door for younger guys like Trevor Cahill to show what they are capable of. From 1-5, the A's are set in their rotation and have one of the better young closers in Andrew Bailey. I think Beane needs to add one or two more quality relievers and add one or two big bats. Eric Chavez and his $12 million salary come off the books and I expect Beane to be very active to add some real pop to the A's lineup, possibly in the outfield. As it stands now, they are last in the majors in home runs and their outfield positions have hit one-third the home runs that Toronto has (which leads the majors).

NESN.com: How has lefty Gio Gonzalez been able to transform himself into one of the most dominant pitchers in the AL in the second half?

J.R.: Gio has always had really good stuff. The problem is, he has never been very consistent. I think this year, he has been able to trust in his stuff a lot more and has the confidence to know how to get out of jams. In years past, he would have a bad inning and he couldn't get out of it — it would spiral down. The A's game against the Mariners on Sept. 8 was a perfect example. He gave up three runs in the first two innings, including two home runs and then was able to settle down and pitch four and two-thirds scoreless innings after that and get the win. He never did that in the past.

NESN.com: Dallas Braden has shown signs of brilliance, including a perfect game in May, but his overall performance has been inconsistent at times. Does Braden have what it takes to be a premier pitcher?

J.R.: I don't see Braden as a premier pitcher now or necessarily in the future. I think the perfect game raised expectations as to what he was capable of but I see Braden as a No. 2 or 3 pitcher that will give you solid innings and mostly keep the A's in the game but I don't think he's got the "stuff' to be a premier pitcher. That being said, he has definitely been one of the pleasant surprises of the year and that perfect game was among the major highlights of the A's season.

NESN.com: Eric Chavez has been out since May 20 and will not return this season. What are the chances that Chavez takes the field for the A’s in 2011?

J.R.: I alluded to it earlier but I think A's fans have seen the last of Eric Chavez. Whether he comes back or not, I don't think he will ever suit up for the A's again. The cash-strapped A's had a choice to make in terms of which young player they would lock up. They elected to go with Chavez as opposed to Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, etc., and at the time I agreed with it. Unfortunately, injuries have slowed down what appeared to be a brilliant career. Chavez will always be one of the great Oakland A's but unfortunately, it will be past tense.

Thanks once again to Josha Russell from Money Ball Blog for his contribution to this article.

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