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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Proving doubters wrong, A's have what it takes

Justice: A's have emerged as legit contender

Proving doubters wrong, A's have what it takes
When the A's clinch their improbable playoff berth, one of them is going to say something about no one believing in them. He'll be right, but that's beside the point.

Seeing how we've beaten the shock-the-world story line to death, it's time to see the A's for what they actually are instead of what they were supposed to be. They're good enough to win the World Series. That's the bottom line.

To simplify it, they pitch and they play defense and they hit home runs. They've got a pretty darn good manager, too, in Bob Melvin.

The A's are the third-highest scoring American League team since the All-Star break. They were dead last before the break.

Only the White Sox have hit more home runs since the break. Six A's have at least seven since the break, led by Chris Carter's 11.

Only the Rays have a lower ERA than the A's. That was true before the All-Star break and has remained consistent since. They've allowed two runs or less in seven of their last 10 games.

The A's have done it with 10 different starting pitchers. Six of them are 25 or younger, including A.J. Griffin, who was 6-0 with a 1.94 ERA since making his Major League debut entering his start on Tuesday. Travis Blackley, Brett Anderson, Tom Milone and Griffin are a combined 18-6 since the break.

The A's play defense, too. Coco Crisp is one of the better defensive center fielders in the game, and general manager Billy Beane's acquisition of shortstop Stephen Drew has solidified the infield.

The A's appear to be cruising toward their first playoff appearance in six years and have closed to within three games of the Rangers in the AL West. With the A's and Rangers scheduled to play seven times in the final 10 days of the regular season, we could be in for a terrific finish.

The AL West was supposed to be a two-team race between the Angels and Rangers. But the A's have baseball's best record since June 2 (62-32), and that's a long enough stretch to expose every weakness.

At 41-19, the A's have baseball's best record since the All-Star break, and they're doing it with a team that is pretty close to complete.

Pressure? Yeah, you'd think that would be a problem. The A's have 14 rookies on the roster. They've used 18 rookies in all this season, including 11 rookie pitchers. But they don't seem to be bothered by the spotlight.

Oakland has won 14 of its last 17 one-game games and has 13 walk-off victories, tops in the Majors.

There surely was a time when plenty of us didn't think the A's would hold up through the grind of a long season. It was clear Beane and his assistant general manager, David Forst, had a tremendous offseason in amassing young talent.

Midway through Spring Training, they believed they had the makings of one of baseball's best pitching staffs. But young players don't come with guarantees. They didn't know if those young players would begin to contribute in 2012 or 2014.

The A's just knew they'd done a good job adding talent to the organization. They're not surprised by how this season has played out, but they're not completely shocked, either.

They knew Milone had the stuff to be a No. 1 starter. They didn't know if it would happen this season or next season or the one after that.

To watch him now is to forget he's 25 years old. He has been a rock, winning 13 games and pitching 174 2/3 innings.

Beane also acquired Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes. Eight A's have at least 10 home runs, led by Reddick's 28. Cespedes (19) and Brandon Moss (18) likely will also finish with more than 20.

In the six seasons since the A's last made the postseason, Beane has taken some shots. Some of his peers resented the fame that came with Moneyball. They loved snickering that if he was so good he'd have his team back in the playoffs.

They missed the obvious. Oakland's payroll is among the lowest in baseball almost every season. Beane has also been aggressive in pursuing a championship. Being respectable never seemed to interest him all that much.

Now he has another chance, and it's coming in a season when he really had no idea how good the A's would be. They've proven to be really good, and he's still pretty good, too.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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