4/12/2013 12:55 P.M. ET
A's hit more homers, have more fun than anyone
Last season's surprise team returns with club's best start since 1992
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
Well, look who's back for more fun. How about a nice round of applause for the Swingin' A's? They're back and better than ever, winners of eight in a row and sporting the best record in the American League at 8-2. They're leading the Major Leagues in runs, home runs, walks and probably laughs. They've got the AL's best ERA, too, if you're bored with all this talk of home runs. And you thought these boys were a one-hit wonder, didn't you?
Here's a tip of the hat to A's general manager Billy Beane, assistant GM David Forst and manager Bob Melvin, and all those players who play the game with joy and toughness and all those other intangibles. Whatever Melvin has done to create that environment ought to be bottled and sold. Plenty of managers would line up for a supply.
The Athletics came out of nowhere last season with all those young starting pitchers and sluggers like Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes mashing their way to the top of the AL West.
Actually, they never led the AL West a single day during the regular season. By the time they passed the Rangers, the regular season had ended. And then they took the Tigers to a Game 5 in a terrific Division Series.
Beane once more worked his magic, making significant changes to his roster, letting go of his two most important leaders, Jonny Gomes and Brandon Inge, in addition to Chris Carter, Cliff Pennington and others. He said a tough goodbye to one of his favorites, right-hander Brandon McCarthy, who signed with the D-backs.
Beane added catcher John Jaso, outfielder Chris Young and super-utility man Jed Lowrie. He once more turned a roster over to Melvin that requires some platooning, but was also built on the belief that Cespedes, Reddick, Brandon Moss and others would continue to improve.
That platooning may be part of the reason the clubhouse seems like such a happy place. Almost everyone plays. Thanks to Melvin, everyone understands their role.
Beane essentially constructed two teams last season, beginning with one group and then making changes after a 22-30 start. Oakland was led by its starting pitchers, all 10 of 'em.
This season, the A's have former ace Brett Anderson completely back from Tommy John surgery. They've got Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker back from productive rookie seasons. And they have 24-year-old A.J. Griffin, who was 7-1 after the All-Star break in 2012.
Oakland has allowed more than three earned runs just once this season. The A's had a three-game streak in which they homered three times in each game. Of their 103 hits, 45 have gone for extra bases.
Bartolo Colon, 40, is the only Athletics starter older than 26. Center fielder Coco Crisp, 33, and designated hitter Seth Smith, 30, are the only Oakland starters who've had a 30th birthday.
These A's are like a lot of other Oakland teams through the years. They have terrific chemistry, feed off one another's energy and seem to love it when people doubt them. Their home ballpark, the O.co Coliseum, isn't much to look at, but when there's a big crowd in there, it's still one of the most fun places on earth to watch a baseball game.
Oakland began the season with back-to-back home losses to Seattle, but hasn't lost since and is 8-2 for the first time since 1992. Now the Athletics are going home for a rematch of the ALDS against the Tigers and to host the Astros for three games before beginning a tour of the AL East.
At this point, it doesn't seem to matter much where they're going or who they're playing. Somewhere along the way last season, a kind of magic and self-confidence emerged around the A's.
They're a lot like the Nationals and Rangers in that it's difficult to look at their roster and find a real weakness. With so much parity in the game, one way to separate the teams is by looking at the starting rotations.
No team has one better than Oakland. No team seems to have more fun than the A's. But after last season, you probably knew that.
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.