Over the past few years, the West Coast has been the center of the baseball world. Some of baseball’s biggest stars like Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano have headed west.
Players like Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout and San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey are some of the best young players in baseball today. Plus, the team that has won two of the last four World Series calls San Francisco home. But it’s the team just across the bay from the Giants that has been baseball’s best team since 2012.
With two straight division titles and a third in their sights, the Oakland Athletics are in the middle of their best stretch since the days of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder in the early 2000’s. Yet the A’s still don’t seem to get the respect they deserve from the national media.
It might be because of their inability to get past the ALDS. Or it could be general manager Billy Beane’s reputation for regularly shipping out big stars for the next generation of A’s players, who will then eventually be traded once they get too expensive. But Beane wanted the AL West and the rest of the baseball world to know something over the Fourth of July weekend.
The Oakland A’s aren’t messing around in 2014.
Last Friday, the A’s made a trade that might be the most aggressive move of the Beane era by acquiring Chicago Cubs starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for top prospects Addison Russell, who Beane described to Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein as the next Barry Larkin according to Peter Gammons, Bill McKinney and veteran pitcher Dan Straily.
In Hammel, the A’s acquire an affordable rental pitcher who is in the midst of arguably his best season and will solidify the back end of the A’s rotation.
But it is Samardzija, arguably the biggest name on the trade market other than David Price, who is the real story. The trade is completely out of character for Beane, who is usually the one trading away star players for prospects. After years of early playoff exits though, not to mention that both the Angels and Seattle Mariners are breathing down their neck, Beane and the A’s had to do something drastic. They had to send a message to fans that postseason failure is not an option.
By acquiring a top of the rotation starter with a 2.83 ERA in Samardzija, Oakland made it very clear that they intend to do everything they can to ensure October glory. Teams like the Giants, Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals have found postseason success recently thanks to their stacked starting rotations, and the A’s are now trying to follow suit.
It was fitting that Samardzija’s first start in an A’s uniform came against a team he may face come October, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Shark did not disappoint, pitching 7 innings, allowing just 4 hits, 1 run and using his fastball that topped out in the high 90’s to strikeout 5 batters.
If Samardzija can pitch at that level and the level he has pitched at all season long, the A’s will have the best pitching staff in the American League. With Samardzija, Hammel, Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray, the A’s finally have a rotation that easily rivals that of their postseason opponent over the past two seasons, the Tigers, and can rival any rotation in either league.
With the way Beane wheels and deals, it’s tough to say that the A’s window for a championship is ever about to close, but this season feels like it could be their best chance to end their 25-year World Series drought. With so much parity in the 2014 season, the A’s have been the one of the few teams to set themselves apart from the rest of the league.
Their +135 run differential is tops in baseball by a wide margin, 64 to be exact. Oakland has the best offense in baseball, and only the Washington Nationals and Mariners have allowed fewer runs. The A’s were already the team to beat in the American League, and the addition of both Samardzija and Hammel shows that Beane understands the team has never had a better chance to win it all under his watch than they do right now.