Do the A's postseason hopes rest on pitching staff?
NEW YORK -- They are in first place…with a two-game lead at the All-Star break.
Their record of 56-39 is the second-best mark in the American League, the third-best in all of baseball…and they've taken two of three from each of the two teams ahead of them -- Boston (58-39) and St. Louis (57-36).
And yet, when it comes to the Midsummer Classic here in the sweltering Big Apple, the A's are noticeable by their relative absence. Sure, the A's lack what fans of the national pastime call star power, but only two All Stars? And one (closer Grant Balfour) was added as a replacement for the first (right-hander Bartolo Colon).
No doubt the A's have image problems. Just as surely, they'd have it no other way.
"I'm happy to fly under the radar and give a sneak attack," Balfour said Monday in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda during media day at Citi Field. "It's all good."
Well, yeah, in a kinda, sorta way.
Balfour, you'll recall, is the only closer with a perfect save mark thus far, converting all 25 of his opportunities while riding a streak of 43 straight. And yet, he was left off the initial list.
"I'll be honest with you, I was a little disappointed," he acknowledged. "I would have liked to have been named straight-away, but I'm here so I'm not complaining.
"We've got a team of guys that can get fired up and they're going to go and show it on the field. They're not going to sit there and talk and complain. They're going to go out there and take care of their business. It's going to be exciting."
Yes, the snubs -- Josh Donaldson, anyone? Can I tell you 'bout a name named Jed…Lowrie? Anyone cocoa for Coco Crisp? -- real or perceived, can and will serve as fuel for this unlikely band of A's as they defend their division title. A year ago, though, they came out of nowhere. Now, the only thing surprising about them is how consistent they've been, so to speak.
As usual, it starts with their pitching. Oakland leads the A.L. in team ERA (3.62) and has given up a league low in walks (231). That will keep you in more than a handful of games.
Still, why, with that documented lack of (All-)star power, have they been able to be so good in a game that is often determined by how well-heeled a team is during a season?
"I would have to say their pitching staff," offered Los Angeles Angeles outfielder Mike Trout, seen, along with Washington outfielder Bryce Harper, as the face of the game's next generation.
"They've been unbelievable. But I can't take anything away from their offense, either. They've got great timely hitting, they have great at-bats. Chili (Davis), their hitting coach, does a great job over there. I got to work with Chili in the Arizona Fall League and just they way they put at-bats together is pretty special."
As have been the A's since July 1 of last year, to the tune of a 113-65 (.635) record.
"It's a team that plays with a lot of heart," Colon said in Spanish. "Many people talk about Anaheim and Texas and how they have high salaries. So not too many people talk about us. And that's OK, because all we have to do is keep winning games."
And that brings it's own brand of notoriety.