What's going on with the A's?
With 47 wins and a run differential that is 90 runs greater than any other major league team (seriously, that's ridiculous), the A's are the best team in MLB. On offense, a pair of late bloomers are leading the way, with Coco Crisp getting on base 38 percent of the time out of the leadoff spot and Brandon Moss proving that last year's 30 home runs were in no way a fluke. Josh Donaldson is putting up MVP-caliber counting stats at the hot corner, and Yoenis Cespedes still provides plenty of pop despite being overshadowed by those other Cuban defectors Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig.
The real fun part about Oakland's offense, though, is the catching platoon. 25-year-old Derek Norris is looking like an All-Star with the way he handles the bat with a walk rate of 15 percent to go with a .509 slugging percentage. Despite those sexy figures, manager Bob Melvin still finds a way to get another catcher, John Jaso into the lineup because of his ability to crush right-handed pitching. While most clubs will be fine with a backup catcher who doesn't hit the ball too much, Oakland has to use the designated hitter slot to fit both of its backstops into the lineup.
Devastating injuries to A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker (both underwent Tommy John surgery) back in March could have spelled doom to Oakland's pitching staff, but a couple of surprise performances have helped the unit become way more than just Sonny Gray and a bunch of bums. Former Met Scott Kazmir is suddenly having his best ever season after years of trying to regain the greatness he found in Tampa Bay, and career reliever Jesse Chavez, he of four major league starts prior to this season, is also eating up innings like a veteran ace.
With such out-of-nowhere campaigns from Kazmir and Chavez, one has to wonder if Oakland's great starting pitching will hold up, but if it does, this team has "World Series" written all over it. Plus, with a backend of the bullpen as unhittable as Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson, Fernando Abad, and Dan Otero, the A's can battle their way past a five-inning start if they need to.
Who are these guys?
Norris and Jaso aren't the only catchers on Oakland's roster. Stephen Vogt can also don the tools of ignorance, but he doubles as an outfielder, allowing the A's to maintain maximum flexibility. The former Tampa Bay farmhand has crushed the ball for Oakland in Triple-A over the past two seasons, earning major league promotions in each. This year, Vogt's talents are finally starting to show up in the big leagues, as he's hit .346/.364/.519 in 17 games so far. At 29 years old, Vogt isn't a young player, and we don't know if he'll keep hitting like this, but in the present he allows Melvin the ability to keep his catchers' bats in the lineup without wearing them down with defensive work. This is the kind of roster construction that makes Billy Beane one of the best GMs in the game.
Eric Sogard might be completely invisible if not for the extremely stylish specs he sports on the field. Instead, he one of the game's most popular players. It definitely doesn't have anything to do with what he does in the batter's box. Sogard is hitting just .196/.270/.231 this season, and while that should go up soon when you consider his 11-percent strikeout rate and .222 BABIP, there's nothing that says the second baseman is going to start hitting the ball for power anytime soon. Still, he's a solid defensive player on a team that gets plenty of offense from its outfield and corner infield positions.
Who's on the mound?
Tuesday: Scott Kazmir vs. Bartolo Colon
The Houston native who was once the jewel of the Mets' farm system is now 30 years old. If that doesn't make you feel old then... well, good for you. It makes me feel old. After he pained Mets fans by becoming a star with the Rays, injuries and attrition took their toll on Kazmir's arm and he was out of the majors for almost two complete seasons in 2011 and 2012. Last year, the lefty made a somewhat remarkable comeback with the Indians, striking out 162 batters in 158 innings on his way to a 4.04 ERA. The numbers were rather pedestrian for Kazmir, who once struck out 239 batters in a single season, but they were good enough to get him a deal with Oakland this winter. In 2014, Kazmir's strikeout numbers are down, but his walk rate of 5.4 percent is way lower than its ever been before. A 2.08 ERA and incredible 0.95 WHIP so far make it seem like this new version of Kazmir is here to stay.
Maybe if Kazmir hadn't been pitching so well, the A's would miss good ole Colon more. The veteran keeps humming along, and he hasn't allowed more than three runs in a game since the middle of May. With the Mets rich with pitching prospects and the trade deadline approaching, you have wonder just how much longer Colon will keep pitching for the Mets. If you put a lot of stock into his strikeout-to-walk ratio like I do, his contract is looking very friendly right now to a club looking to bolster its rotation for the next one-and-a-half seasons.
Just "purchased" from the Brewers a week ago, Mills is already being flung into the rotation to take the place of the injured Drew Pomeranz.. The 29-year-old is a journeyman left who hasn't stuck around one place too long, so he'll fit in just fine with the rest of the Oakland rotation. What makes this case intriguing is how well he's pitched in the Pacific Coast League with the Nashville Sounds this season. In 75 innings, Mills has struck out 77 batters and walked only 18. Even better, he's allowed just five home runs. It's hard to say if Mills' performance will translate to the majors (it certainly hasn't in prior years), but his first major league start of the year didn't go too well. He needed 94 pitches to get through four innings (three runs allowed) against the Red Sox. The Mets shouldn't be as much of a challenge, but the Amazins are better off facing Mills right now than any other pitcher in the Oakland rotation.
Wheeler has gone back and forth between being frustrating and being brilliant this season, and his last outing in Miami was as good as the young right-hander has ever looked. He commanded all his pitches in a nine-inning masterpiece that made fans excited about Wheeler's future all over again. If he can learn to pitch that way a little more consistently, the rest of the National League might be #BlamingBeltran for making Wheeler a Met.
Prediction: The pitching matchups are making me frisky. I'm calling for a sweep!
How about some GIFs?
The Athletics are an awesome baseball team, but their stadium is could use an upgrade. It certainly doesn't help that the fans sometimes neglect to secure signs properly, leading to a delay like this one.
A's legend Dennis Eckersly recently met the giant mascot version of himself. This is almost as cool as when Milwaukee's Frankie Furter met an actual hot dog.
The last time the Mets faced the A's, it was 2011 and Chris Capuano was dealing.
BONUS GIF: Justin Turner drives in the winning run with walk-off hit-by-pitch on June 22, 2011.