MIAMI -- The A's are no longer baseball's Cinderella story. They're simply good -- really good.
On the hunt for their third straight division title, the A's boast the Major Leagues' best record at 48-30 and have outscored their opposition by 129 runs. No other club comes close to such a wide margin.
There's still wonder in how they do it, how a small-market club continues to overwhelm the biggest of spenders. Here are five reasons:
1. Performing in platoons
The A's have made it look easy in recent years, begging the question, why aren't more teams following suit? Some have indeed copied the trend, but no one does it as well as Oakland, where players have no problem buying into a system that doesn't work with egos. Up and down the lineup and beyond, stretching the entire bench, each player knows and has accepted his role, even if it's a part-time one.
How does it work? The club keeps several of its players away from same-handed pitchers, allowing for a lineup that puts players in the best position to succeed. Brandon Moss is the poster boy for this system, and the three-headed monster that is the A's catching trio of Derek Norris, John Jaso and Stephen Vogt is another fine example.
2. Bob Melvin
A platoon system is only as good as its manager, and Melvin is deservingly considered one of the best in the game for his masterful lineup maneuverings and creation of a cohesive clubhouse never lacking in communication. General manager Billy Beane and his genius front-office army are, of course, responsible for bringing in the players that make up this deep and balanced roster, but Melvin makes it all work. Players trust and respect him, knowing he always has their back.
They also know when he's going to call their name off the bench thanks to the constant communication. That's largely why this club is so good in the pinch. Only the Rays (82) have more pinch-hit at-bats than the A's (67) in the American League, and the A's .284 batting average and .410 on-base percentage in such situations is tops among clubs with at least 45 pinch-hit at-bats.
3. The Bash Brothers
No, not those Bash Brothers. But Josh Donaldson and Moss are of close resemblance. Yoenis Cespedes makes three, and they each have more than 50 RBIs. No other club has more than one player with as many. Together, the trio boasts 167, accounting for nearly half of the club's runs (398).
Donaldson and Moss have both compiled 18 homers, and Cespedes isn't far behind with 14, giving the A's a middle of the lineup that is one of the most feared in the game.
This isn't exactly a secret, or a surprise. The A's have long trotted out one of the best pitching staffs in the league, and this year is no different. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir are at the top of a rotation that has been terrific, even with the spring losses of Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. The starters' 3.23 ERA ranks first in the AL, and their .235 opponents' average is second only to the Angels' .229.
Then there's the bullpen. After a rough start, it's rounded into form as one of the best in the league, as was expected at the beginning of the season. Their $10 million man, Jim Johnson, didn't work out as closer, and his role is still mostly undefined, but the A's didn't have to look far for their ninth-inning answer. Sean Doolittle's ability to not only fill the role, but do so with such dominance -- the lefty has an insane 53:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, along with a 24 1/3-inning scoreless streak -- has allowed the A's to pinpoint set roles for their other relievers, which has resulted in more late-inning consistency on the mound.
Beane might not be a big believer in the intangible powers of clubhouse chemistry, and front offices everywhere continue to find ways to quantify it, while much of their focus remains on advanced metrics. But there's something to it, A's players argue. A peek inside their clubhouse reveals why. Without egos, everyone is welcome, everyone feels comfortable, and everyone is close. Then, as Kazmir often says, they just go out on the field and have fun together.