A's have surprisingly successful half
Young team paced by strong starting pitching
OAKLAND -- The A's entered the 2008 season without the burden of lofty expectations, and they'll enter the second half of the season in a similar situation.
They like it that way.
"I don't think anybody thought we'd be any good, but we are," says All-Star right-hander Justin Duchscherer. "And I'm sure people are thinking we'll start fading in the second half, especially with all the injuries. But that's great, as far as I'm concerned. Let everyone say what they want. We're fine without all the attention.
"The only opinions that matter are those of the guys in our own clubhouse, and we know what we're capable of doing."
The rest of baseball should, too. The A's, carried by a pitching staff that sported the best ERA in the American League for much of the first half, spent 26 days in first place in the AL West before the All-Star break. To say that their first half was a surprise is an understatement.
This is a team, remember, that traded its ace pitcher (Dan Haren), it's most dynamic position player (Nick Swisher), its Gold Glove-caliber center fielder and clubhouse leader (Mark Kotsay) and its uber-utilityman (Marco Scutaro) over the winter for 13 prospects.
The extreme makeover resulted in no-name starting lineups that frequently featured as many as six players in their first or second full year in the Majors. But despite an inconsistent and power-challenged offense, a bullpen that turned shaky after the opening of the season, and the injury problems to which Duchscherer referred, the A's were one of the feel-good stories of the first half.
"I saw them eight times in Spring Training, and they were playing good ball in Arizona, but I still figured they'd struggle to win 70 games," admits an advance scout for a rival team. "They had some nice young talent, but they didn't have power, they didn't have experience, they didn't have depth, they didn't have speed. They didn't have anything you look for in a winning club."
|ATHLETICS TOP PERFORMANCES|
4/25, OAK 4, SEA 3 -- Crosby's diving stop
Bobby Crosby makes a diving catch to his left to get Adrian Beltre out at first and end the game.
6/8, OAK 7, LAA 3 -- Ellis' walk-off slam
Mark Ellis lines one off the foul pole in the 12th for a walk-off grand slam.
6/13, OAK 5, SF 1 -- Street gets flooded
Huston Street pauses throwing his pitch as the sprinkler system at AT&T Park goes on in the ninth inning at exactly 10 p.m.
6/17, OAK 15, ARI 1 -- Gonzalez's great snare
Carlos Gonzalez makes a leaping catch at the wall in right, robbing Stephen Drew of a home run.
6/25, PHI 4, OAK 0 -- Sweeney saves a run
Ryan Sweeney makes a throw home from right field to get the Phillies' Chase Utley out at the plate.
What they did have, says their second-year skipper, was heart.
"We've been successful for the same reason I've enjoyed this bunch of guys so much," A's manager Bob Geren offers. "They go out there, they get after it, and they never quit."
The Angels were considered the class of the American League West coming out of Spring Training, and despite underachieving offensively for much of the first half, they went into the All-Star break as the AL West frontrunners by six games.
But they're well aware of the dangers of underestimating the A's, who were 3 1/2 games behind the Angels after rookie Greg Smith beat them in Anaheim on the final day of June.
"They play the game the right way," Halos manager Mike Scioscia says. "And they pitch their butts off. That's going to win you a lot of games."
Whether Oakland will be able to continue to confound the experts in the second half might hinge on health. The team used the disabled list 18 times in the first half, and it entered the break still missing the services of its three biggest middle-of-the-order presences. There remains no definitive timeline for the respective returns of designated hitter Frank Thomas (right quad), first baseman Mike Sweeney (both knees) and third baseman Eric Chavez (right shoulder).
But no matter who's healthy, Geren has a feeling they'll help keep the team afloat.
"There's a personality to this team that's hard to define, but it sure is fun to be a part of," he says. "I'm proud of everything they've done, and I'm sure I'll be saying the same thing next winter -- no matter how the second half plays out."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.