The Oakland As have a perception problem. Specifically, how to perceive themselves.
As day dawned, they were 43-43, their best record at the break since 2008, and cause for optimism after the Lost Years.
They were also tied for ninth place, which makes the process of being a wild card team all the more complicated.
Thus comes the question of what Billy Beane does between now and the 31st to change the Elephants into bonafide contenders. Or, as has been the case more recently, eager sellers.
It seems evident at the break that riding Jarrod Parker and Josh Reddick and Ryan Cook and Good Brandon Inge and Sean Doolittle and Healthy Yoenis Cespedes to the wire is probably a losers bet.
At least in the short term, anyway. Standing pat, which Beane does not normally embrace, may teach this team to BE a team in 2013, but even with their outsized June, they remain a substandard offensive team with a rotation that still needs Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson to return and be regular contributors.
In short, they look right now like the Giants of 2011, only with one fewer starter.
And the standings are, at best, murky. They wont catch Texas to unless the Rangers are ravaged by injuries, and the Yankees and White Sox are beyond their reach for technical reasons. Thus, they have to become better than the Angels, Orioles, Rays, Indians, Tigers, Red Sox and Blue Jays to be the fourth team.
Of those, they have the best chances of catching the overachieving Os and Indians, who are two of the five AL teams with negative run differentials. The Angels are surging, and more likely to pull away than fall back, so that really leave the one spot, and five teams to get it.
So lets remove the wild card as the prime motivator here, and consider instead whether this team is built for building. More specifically, whether Beane views this as a core group for the longer haul, or an aberration of results that should be turned into more future assets sooner rather than later.
The first concept gives badly needed hope, something to take peoples minds off ownership's relentless whining about the South Bay. That storyline is played out, and it is time for ownership to face the fact that waiting for a ballpark before they get interested in their primary job is a losers proposition.
Its time, but they wont follow it. Theyre pot-committed to San Jose or sell, or maybe even San Jose AND sell, because for them this isnt a living breathing baseball team, but an asset to be gussied up for market. And no, were not talking about the Sacramento County Fair.
But like we said, thats another story for another time.
The second concept, blowing it up yet again for a boatload of new prospects, is too depressing to consider, as that has been the operating procedure too often. Thats how the As got into this morass in the first place.
The problem, of course is in defining what it is. Thats why the next three weeks matter almost more than the eight that come after it. The As have become an intriguing team, a group of actual flesh-and-blood performers with real personalities that can, if left to be grown and augmented with other like talents, be the As of the early 2000s, or maybe of the late '80s.
Or maybe this is just one more cul-de-sac. We dont know. You dont know. Billy Beane doesnt know. He can only guess and project and sell Bartolo Colon.
This will be an interesting process, however it turns out. But the word interesting has not often been linked to this franchise of late, so thats a considerable plus. The season is already more of a success than any of the last five because of it.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.