The Oakland A’s are here to destroy every fallacy Twins fans blame for their team’s failures.
The Twins don’t spend enough money? Please. The Twins’ payroll is $128 million, almost double the A’s Opening Day payroll.
The Twins need a new manager? Stop it. Paul Molitor was the American League Manager of the Year last year. The A’s Bob Melvin kept his job despite three straight last-place finishes. Now he’s managing the best story in baseball and likely will succeed Molitor as an award winner. The intelligence of managers doesn’t fluctuate year to year.
Free agency is the key to winning? Try fact-checking. The Twins added Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed, Lance Lynn, Logan Morrison and Zach Duke as free agents, and traded for Jake Odorizzi. All were coming off strong seasons and none of them made the Twins winners, while Oakland built through trades and the draft.
The A’s, who began a four-game series at Target Field on Thursday with a 6-4 loss, have turned “Moneyball” into “Funnyball.” Brad Pitt played General Manager Billy Beane in the movie; Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”) should play Melvin in the sequel.
That’s “funny” as in odd, not humorous. The A’s have built a winner not with an easily described formula, but with a series of moves that at the time were underappreciated. They are winning because of clutchness and chemistry, two of those notions supposedly exploded by the analytics movement.
The A’s are 26-10 in one-run games and 53-0 when leading after seven innings. Entering Thursday, they led the majors in runs scored in the seventh inning or later.
They say they win close because they are close.
“Recently people have been noting our team chemistry,” said closer Blake Treinen. “It’s been there since last year. You add guys like … well, all of the guys you see right here, and everyone has made it a brotherhood.”
On June 15, the A’s were 35-36. They’re an MLB-best 42-16 since then, earning half of those victories by coming from behind, making a believer of former Twins closer Fernando Rodney.
“We go to the World Series,” Rodney said with a smile.
The A’s built this team conventionally and opportunistically. They traded two prospects to Milwaukee for Khris Davis, who hit his 39th homer Thursday night. They selected third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson in the first round. They traded for second baseman Jedd Lowrie, and traded Treinen to the Nationals only to trade back for him four years later.
“We have depth in a lot of different areas,” Melvin said. “Certainly, we can hit some home runs. Our pitching has been terrific here, especially recently with the acquisitions we’ve had in the bullpen. We have a really deep bullpen, which allows us at times to really cut some games short.”
The A’s are proof that baseball is not required to make sense. They’ve had four starting pitchers undergo Tommy John surgery since the beginning of spring training. One of their current starters is Edwin Jackson, who hadn’t posted a season ERA lower than 5.00 since 2015, yet is 4-3 with a 2.97 ERA this season. Mike Fiers is with his fourth team since 2015 and is 2-0 with a 1.47 ERA since coming over from Detroit.
Treinen might be the A’s most emblematic player. Beane drafted him in the seventh round, traded him, traded for him when his value was low, and now has a Cy Young candidate who throws 100 mph sinkers.
Max Kepler’s eighth-inning homer off Treinen was just the second home run he has allowed all season and the first run he’s allowed since July 21.
“We genuinely pull for each other and want the next guy to do better than ourselves,” Treinen said. “ I think it shows on the field when we scrap for five-plus runs late in the game and end up winning. We’re constantly trying to lift our teammates up.”
Jim Souhan’s podcasts can be heard at TalkNorth.com