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Oakland A’s coming to life

The Oakland Athletics reshaped their team more than any other in the American League this offseason. After a third straight playoff appearance that ended in the first round, general manager Billy Beant decided to take a blowtorch to the roster and basically start from scratch.

The result was stunning. Beane allowed both Jon Lester and Jason Hammel to walk in free agency, with the same treatment given to shortstop Jed Lowrie. He then went on a trading spree, sending Jeff Samardzija to the Chicago White Sox for shortstop Marcus Semien and catcher Josh Phegley among others. Beane also traded power-hitting first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss to the Cleveland Indians for minor-leaguer Joe Wendle.

In the biggest stunner of them all, the man known for Moneyball dealt third baseman and MVP candidate Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays for a host of young talent, including third baseman Brett Lawrie and starting pitcher Kendall Graveman. Beane also acquired Ben Zobrist from the Tampa Bay Rays, and signed Billy Butler to a three-year, $30 deal.

It was impossible to figure how Oakland would be after all the dust settled. As it turns out, the Athletics became one of the most confusing teams in recent memory. Despite having one of the best run differentials throughout the season, Oakland was dead last in the American League standings most of the year. However, the A’s have begun to turn things around a bit at 33-41.

While still in last place and the constant source of trade rumors for teams wanting Scott Kazmir, Oakland has won four straight (as of the completion of its game on Wednesday night). The A’s are only nine manageable games behind the first-place Houston Astros, a team that appears doomed for some regression over the final three months. Additionally, the rest of the West is mediocre. The Texas Rangers have dropped four straight (including the last two against Oakland), and stand just five games better than the A’s. Texas will be hard-pressed to avoid a fifth-straight loss on Thursday afternoon, with Sonny Gray taking the bump for Oakland.

Gray has been perhaps the best pitcher in the American League, posting a 8-3 record with 11 quality starts in 15 chances and a miniscule 1.95 ERA. The 25-year-old also possesses a ridiculous 0.95 WHIP and 90 strikeouts against 25 walks, giving him a 4.1 Wins Above Replacement on the campaign.

Offensively, Oakand is led by unlikely hero, catcher Stephen Vogt. Vogt, who looks more like a bouncer at the bar than a major league player, has a .301 average with 13 homers and 53 RBI. In the American League,nobody has driven in more runs.

The A’s still have plenty of work ahead of them, but this group has hope. Oakland plays in a bad division and frankly, a terrible league. If the A’s can simply get back to .500 by August and play well over the final two months, anything is possible for this group of underdogs.

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