Originally posted on The Daily Rival  |  Last updated 7/9/12

By any stretch of the imagination, it’s impressive where the A’s are heading into the All-Star break.

After all, this was a team that in the offseason executed another one of its patented player purges to reload an already teeming farm system. Former All-Stars Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey? All three young, budding stars were all shipped out of town in three weeks time. 

This was a team so desperate for any offense it can muster it took a flier on exiled 40-year-old and still relatively crazy person Manny Ramirez, even despite his standing 50-game suspension, so in need just to fill the rotation it reached out to the 38-year-old and reliably out-of-shape Bartolo Colon. And then there was that out-of-nowhere signing of highly touted workout-video demigod Yoenis Cespedes. It was a bewildering, loud offseason for a team that usually has quiet and pedestrian regular seasons.

This was a team that wasn’t supposed to matter, a team in the middle of yet another rebuilding year. It wasn’t supposed to be a winning season, but with Ramirez confusing teammates for video coordinators, A’s fans were at least guaranteed a fun one.

And yet here were those swingin’ A’s on Sunday with a major league-leading sixth walk-off win, improving their record to the .500 mark. Nothing special to most people but something of a small and encouraging feat for this team of cast-offs and up-and-comers. The A’s have quietly won 21 of their last 34, and a look at the standings after Sunday shows them only 2.5 games out of a Wild Card spot.

The roster this season has been a who’s who of ball players. That’s sort of the norm in Oakland in recent years. Ramirez never played a game in an A’s jersey before he was released in June, but other familiar names such as Weeks, Crisp, Pennington and Suzuki are still there, only to be supremely outnumbered by lads named Reddick, Moss, Norris, Milone, Parker, Smith, Cowgill, Griffin and Cook. And with the amount of injuries the A’s have gone through this year, A’s fans find themselves attempting to not only learn the stats of players but also their names. That part of the program Billy Beane rolls with these days. But then again, A’s fans not too long ago were trying to learn the names of Gonzalez, Bailey and Cahill.

Even with the revolving door of players in that Coliseum clubhouse, the brand of baseball is largely the same. The A’s still put up miserable offensive numbers — they’re at or near the bottom in nearly every important statistical category, which sort of makes it ironic I called them the “Swingin’ A’s” a few grafs ago. (Call it one of those oxymoronic nicknames that aren’t supposed to make sense. Like “King James.” Oh, wait.)

There have been some bright spots, though, like that 17-game home run streak that came to an end on Sunday, which was fun to follow. You don’t need to be an A’s fan for very long to remember when the A’s would be lucky if they even got five total home runs in 17 games. There’s also Cespedes, who, when he’s not injured or playing defense in left field, has been fun to watch as he adjusts to more in life than just breaking balls.

But for all their offensive woes, the A’s make up for it with efficient and gutty pitching. As usual. And even with veterans Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy fighting injures, the A’s still rank top five in the majors in both ERA and opponents’ batting average, all the more impressive when you consider the arms in the current starting rotation — Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin — are all 25 or younger and in their first full years as starting pitchers. Even Colon has been sterling of late, too, surrendering just two earned runs in two starts since coming off the 15-day DL last week. And there’s rookie closer Ryan Cook, who gets the Bud Selig Participation Ribbon this year as the A’s lone, token representative in the All-Star Game.

The A’s still have horrid attendance figures, and those guys from across the Bay still get all the attention and All-Star votes. But that’s just fine for the A’s. Quiet and steady. Good enough to sneak by you before you figure out who they are.

[Photo by Keith Allison]

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