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Big League Stew

The Stewards Debate! Is Oakland a true contender?

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

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(Getty Images)

Taking a look at Oakland's chances at their first playoff appearance since 2006 ...

'Duk: Aloha, Mr. Brown! We're coming up on next Tuesday's trading deadline very quickly and there's no shortage of teams looking to make some home improvements before the stretch run. However, the most surprising DIYers poking around the materials bin— and I'm sure you'll agree — are the Oakland Athletics. Though they dropped a 10-4 decision to Toronto on Thursday, they just recorded a seven-game winning streak that propelled them to the top of the AL wild cards standing with a 53-45 record and brought their love of a bad '80s movie to a national audience. For all the love the Angels have received since their post-April resurrection, the A's trail them by just one game. Meanwhile, they're 5 1/2 games behind Texas for the AL West lead heading into Friday night's action.

So basically the A's have gone from a point where they were going to hang Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon out on a shingle for the pitching-starved masses (and, boy, would I have loved to see that image) to sniffing around for reinforcements of their own. It's a really fascinating situation to watch because the A's really have no time to let things settle before making a decision. And given that they're currently tied for a playoff spot, they have to go ahead and see what they can do to improve that team no matter if they're leveraging part of their future while doing it.

Do you think that's a wise move? Should the A's be pushing more chips into the center of the table?

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Yoenis Cespedes (Getty)

DB: Excuse me, but is this the debate where I pick Oakland to finish last in the AL West? Oh, wrong place, sorry. Señor 'Duk, the baseball playoffs have always been a crapshoot, even when we just had two teams and a best-of-nine World Series. With these changes — the one-and-done wild card and the specter of additional sudden death tie-breakers — the shoot is just a little more crappy. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go for it when you have the chance. Five times since MLB went to six divisions in 1994, a wild card team has won the World Series. That right there should be enough to make Billy Beane say "What the heck?" and go for it now. Of course, there are different degrees of "going for it." Should he deal the A's best prospects for Zack Greinke? Probably not, but as many of the other trades have shown us this season, teams don't have to deal their best prospects to get better. And if the A's get just a little better, they might make the playoffs. And if they make the playoffs, they might win them.

'Duk: Oh, I know what you're saying DB. The A's are a best-in-baseball 31-15 since June 1 and they've given their loyal fans a lot to be excited about. I'm glad they actually have reason to toot their horns after years of being dealt stomach punches like trading Carlos Gonzalez for a few months of bad Matt Holliday or ownership being more committed to fighting for territorial rights.

At the same time, "making the playoffs" is a lot different in the year 2012. Unless the A's think they have a shot at catching the Rangers — and I don't think they do — their best-case scenario is getting into a coinflip game. Or, if there's a tie for one of the wild cards, a coinflip game that will get them into the coinflip game. Sure, the A's could win those — especially with the way the pitching staff has been performing, but what will the bet cost them?

I keep thinking back to last year's Pirates, who were kinda-sorta contenders at the end of July but fell apart the first two weeks of August and didn't even come close to finishing above .500. Pirates' management was smart enough not to buy in the illusion, they kept all their young stud prospects and now it looks like there's a renaissance a-brewin' in Pittsburgh, partly because they didn't get fooled into giving up a lot for Doug Fister or whoever last deadline.

Ultimately, though, I think the the shallow pockets of A's ownership makes our argument a moot point. Maybe Beane can pull of a shrewd move, but this is pretty much the group that will lead them to feast or famine. The A's reportedly lost out on Hanley Ramirez because the Dodgers were willing to eat more salary and there's no way they're going to put themselves on the hook for the final two years of Jimmy Rollins' contract, even if he is a Oakland native.

What's your gut feeling? Do you think the A's reach the playoffs with the squad they have (plus a few nominal improvements)?

DB: The last time I had a gut feeling about the A's, I predicted they would lose up to 300 games this season. Let's look at the facts, Kevin. Oakland's run differential is better than Detroit's or Cleveland's, about the same as Boston's and better than the other trailers in the AL East. In other words, they stack up well against the competition. This is the best indicator that they're in the race for the long haul. They have 16 one-run victories and seven in extra innings, so they're lucky too. Their lineup is full of holes, but Yoenis Cespedes is slugging .792 in the second half, so if he stays hot and Josh Reddick keeps on keepin' on, they ought to score enough runs to supplement their pitching staff, which — as you said — is among the very best. If Billy can find a Ray Durham type of guy like he did with the "Moneyball" team 10 years ago, these guys will be in the race down to the wire. With a little more luck, they won't be left standing once the music stops.

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