A’s will be second half team

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 25, 2005

The second half of the baseball season means two things: overly hyped series between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox and a resurgence from a team out on the forgotten left coast.

The Oakland Athletics are notorious for their second half surges, usually resulting in a playoff spot followed by a first round exit after a five game series.

But the surge these A’s are making this year may out do the others. But to fully allow you to comprehend the genius (or luck) that surrounds the A’s and general manager Billy Beane we will start from the beginning, also known as the end of last season.

After losing two out of three to the now ridiculously named Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim the A’s lost the division, thus failing to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

After making a name for themselves by being a young team with dominant pitching and being able to close out a season, the A’s were starting to get old and too expensive.

You see life isn’t easy as a small market team. Not every team can be like the filthy rich teams in New York and Boston and sign whomever they please.

This was evident after last season, as Beane was forced to do the unthinkable for most A’s fans – trade away two-thirds of the Big Three.

The Big Three was what made Oakland so good over the years. Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito were easily the best pitching threesome since the Atlanta Braves famous trio of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.

But being a small market team, the A’s were not able to keep all of them around because they cannot afford that type of pitching long term.

So Beane traded away Hudson to the Braves and Mulder to the St. Louis Cardinals.

It was then that all of baseball knew that the A’s dynasty had officially come to an end.

Those notions were supported by an awful start to the 2005 season. On May 29, the A’s were 17-32 and ESPN’s Harold Reynolds described them as the worst team in baseball.

Beane knew his team had talent, but they were just kids on May 29. He also knew that soon he would be getting back three key players from injury – shortstop Bobby Crosby, pitcher Rich Harden and closer Huston Street.

Not only is May 29 significant for the A’s because that was when they hit rock bottom, but it was also the last day they’ve played baseball without defending Rookie of the Year shortstop Crosby in the clubhouse.

Crosby, who had been out since the first game of the season due to injury, lit a much-needed fire in the team and they haven’t looked back since.

June brought the A’s a record of 19-8 as they climbed their way back to the .500 mark by the All-Star Break. This month, post-All-Star break, they have been even better, posting a 14-5 record through Sunday’s game, bringing their overall record to 53-45 and sitting atop the American League Wild Card lead with the Minnesota Twins.

Now that I have ranted and raved about the A’s let me quickly show you the genius of Beane and how he orchestrated this team.

After all but calling this a rebuilding year, Beane stocked the team with young talent, either acquired by the two off-season trades or from the A’s own farm system.

Replacing Hudson and Mulder in the pitching staff would be a baby staff led by the 21-year old Harden, who was injured for most of the season but is now showing why ESPN’s Peter Gammons called him this year’s Johan Santana – whose dominating stuff earned him the Cy Young last year.

This year Harden is 8-4 with a 2.28 ERA.

The rest of the pitching staff around Harden and the incumbent Zito has stepped up. Danny Haren, the 24-year old acquired in the Mulder trade, hasn’t lost a game since May 26th.

Rookie closer Street boasts a 1.47 ERA and only 2 blown saves.

But it’s the hitting for the A’s that wasn’t expected. They knew they would get good performances from third basemen and perennial MVP candidate Eric Chavez and center fielder Mark Kotsay. But it’s the new guys that have really produced for the A’s this year in Crosby (.312 batting average), outfielder Nick Swisher (leads A.L. rookies with 14 home runs) and first basemen Dan Johnson (.287 batting average).

All these have combined to give the A’s clubhouse that young &uot;Animal House&uot; type atmosphere it did years ago with Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada leading the charge.

Beane didn’t even plan on the A’s making the playoffs this year, but if they stay at any kind of positive pace, they will.

But the future only looks brighter for this young bunch of guys.