The hottest team in baseball this April was the Oakland Athletics. The last strong Oakland team was in 2002, the “Moneyball” A’s, in a season that changed baseball forever.
The Oakland offense has a similar balance, especially in the infield, to that legendary 2002 team. It will be up to the pitching staff, however, to keep pace throughout this winning streak and the rest of the season as the A’s aim to match the “Moneyball” team.
This year’s Oakland squad is built offensively around its infield, with first baseman Matt Olson and second baseman Jed Lowrie powering the team’s winning streak. The A’s hot streak ended April 25 at 13 games, helping the team recover from a dismal 1-7 start to the season. Olson and Lowrie’s bats led the team with 17 runs batted in each, despite each missing games to start the season.
The 2002 Oakland offense was also led by half of the infield, though it was shortstop Miguel Tejada and third baseman Eric Chavez, with 34 home runs each, who powered the low-budget roster to first place in the American League West with 103 wins.
The team’s 13-game winning streak was the longest for the A’s since a 20-game winning streak late in the 2002 season when Oakland began to establish itself as one of the American League’s premier teams.
Fans do not get to see in real time what statistics or attributes a specific front office is prioritizing. However, whatever strategy is being instituted across the personnel department of the franchise by General Manager David Forst and current Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane has enabled Oakland to compete with the league’s best.
The road throughout the rest of the regular season will not be easy for Oakland, as its division looks to be one of the strongest in baseball. The Seattle Mariners have surprisingly started with a strong 14-12 record, and the Los Angeles Angels have perennial MVP favorite Mike Trout as well as superstars Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani on their roster who have powered the team to a 12-11 start.
The last great Oakland team, however, also faced two strong divisional opponents on a regular basis. The 2002 AL West featured three great teams as Oakland tallied 103 wins to top the Angels’ 99 and the Mariners’ 93.
One major difference between this current Oakland team and the 2002 iteration is the age of its pitching staff. The 2002 Oakland team was led by star 24-year-old pitcher Barry Zito, who won 23 games that season. The 2002 rotation was younger than most elite pitching staffs, with four of the five regular pitchers aged 26 or younger. The current Oakland rotation might be less equipped for a grueling 162 game season and potential postseason run due to its older rotation, as only one of its five starters is younger than 27.
While Oakland’s current rotation is far from fully past its prime, age can wear greatly on throwing arms over the course of the season. The 20-game winning streak in 2002 came much later in the season, culminating Sept. 4, with the rotation in full force at that point in the season. The current A’s rotation has been great so far, but regression to the mean will likely cool down the pitching staff’s hot start. While the Athletics may be overpowered by in-state competition from the heavyweight Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres and a star-studded Angels team, Oakland has a real chance to match one of its franchise’s greatest seasons. They also appear to face competition from crosstown rival San Francisco Giants, an early surprise with a strong 16-9 record after 25 games. And if Oakland is able to reach 2002’s lofty heights, it will likely be thanks to infield-centered offense and experienced pitching staff staying healthy while surviving an inevitable regression to the mean.
Jake Wexelblatt is a junior in the College. Deja Vu All Over Again appears online every other week.