Baseball season is ending soon, which is both a curse and a gift. The pennant races heat up, and the fanbases become rabid. It's beautiful. But this year there's a few cities that are blowing everyone away. The Oakland A's and the Baltimore Orioles are lighting up baseball and Cinderellas everywhere, and they're doing it without the normal stars that usually occupy a playoff team.
These 2012 A's are much more "Moneyball" than the actual 2002 movie version. They have a 55 million dollar payroll compared to the Yankees' 198 million, about 40 million more of a difference than two years ago. And their general manager Billy Beane did it with unpopular risks, just like before. One of those risks was trading Andrew Bailey, his exciting young closer, for Josh Reddick of the Red Sox, a player many writers felt was wildly overrated. Billy Beane took a player that was at the top of their value and pawned him to fill a glaring weakness. Beane had confidence in his minor league pitchers and knew that one of them could be traded. Reddick is still just 25 and will probably bring in a 30 homerun season already. Plus he has one of the best heads of hair in baseball.
Last year, the Oakland A's boasted two of the top young pitchers in the game in Gio Gonzales and Trevor Cahill. So Beane proceeds to trade both of them to replenish a bleak farm system. It just so happened that the farm system was ready a little faster than people expected. The A's have found prominence with their dominant pitching again, but it's with rookies and castoff veterans. Tommy Milone and Bartolo Colon average a COMBINED 3.1 BB/9, while 25 year old Ryan Cook has a 2.64 ERA as their best lockdown reliever from the Cahill trade. Meanwhile Jarrod Parker has given up less homers than any pitcher in the AL. The A's are for real this year and have the playoff formula down pat. A very scary team for any AL counterpart.
They could end up playing their Cinderella partner in the postseason though. The Baltimore Orioles are succeeding this season, but nobody can figure out how. Camden Yards is playing like Coors Field this year, and the Orioles have taken advantage. They seem to absolutely preach the old mantra "live and die by the long ball", because they have five players with at least 19 homers on the year. Compared to the Giants, who have two people in double digits and one of them was juiced, that's outlandish. Just one of their starting 9 has a slugging percentage of under .400, when the league average is .395.
The Orioles have a run differential of -22, which means they should be about 68-73. Often times these surprising teams are simply lucky, something run differential is supposed to tell us. But there is another way to get lucky, and that's to have a stellar bullpen. They are able to hold on to the close wins that may skew the run differential. The Orioles' bullpen has a 3.15 ERA and have been lights out all year. The bullpen is also when a team can make a difference very cheaply. Good relievers come out of nowhere every year, and the Orioles struck a gold mine with this years' class. Darren O'day, known from Giants fans as the guy that gave up Juan Uribe's homer in game 1 of the World Series, is having a phenomenal year, and so are Jim Johnson, Luis Ayala, and Troy Patton. None of them have double digit contracts, but all are making a big difference in the Orioles season.