A's defying expectations to make playoff run
It's probably time we stop trying to explain what's happening with the Oakland A's and simply enjoy the ride.
Besides, there are things going on with this team that can't be understood. When this season ends, even the A's will look back and attempt to grasp what happened to them.
But one of the reasons we love this stuff is because sometimes strange things happen in team sports. There are times when a team becomes this living, breathing thing that takes on an identity of its own.
It's not about any one player or any one person. It's an entire group performing with heart, resilience and toughness.
No way a team that has relied on 18 rookies is supposed to be blowing through the American League this way, winning 21 of 27 and taking over the top spot in the race for a Wild Card berth.
No way a team that has used 11 rookie pitchers is supposed to have the AL's best pitching staff.
No way a team that is so offensively challenged is supposed to be delivering clutch hit after clutch hit, with 10 walk-off victories in their last 21 home games.
Is this Billy Beane's finest hour? Sure, it might be. That's a question best answered in October.
The A's general manager is absolutely brilliant at his job. So is his assistant, David Forst.
To say it now after they've constructed a contender from the second-lowest payroll in all of Major League Baseball is easy.
Anyone can see the trades that brought in all these talented kids -- Josh Reddick, Tommy Milone, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker and others -- to the A's last winter were spectacularly smart moves.
So were the signings of Yoenis Cespedes and Bartolo Colon.
The truth of the matter is that Beane was really good at his job even when the A's were missing the playoffs five years in a row. Go ahead and try to put a winning team on the field with a payroll that's typically one of the three lowest in the sport.
Beane got so famous after Moneyball that some of his peers resented him. Plenty more wanted to hire him, or at least imitate him.
Now, virtually every front office uses some form of Moneyball analytics to at least assist with player evaluation. Some use it better or more extensively than others, but virtually all of them use it.
Beane traded three All-Star pitchers -- Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey -- for prospects last winter because he didn't think his team was good enough to pass the free-spending Angels and Rangers in the AL West.
He had no interest in being mediocre, so he was willing to take a step back to perhaps have a championship-caliber team in 2014 or '15.
He also knew that young players mature at different speeds. Beane was right about the talent he acquired -- and was pleasantly surprised by the timetable.
Milone and Parker have compiled 16 victories and 244 innings. Cook has 11 saves. Reddick has 23 home runs.
All of them arrived in Oakland having had just a taste of the Major Leagues. That was also true of Cespedes, the Cuban defector who is hitting .430 since the All-Star break.
A's manager Bob Melvin deserves tons of credit for creating the right environment for the young guys to play and learn. Perhaps it helped that the A's got off to such a bad start.
When they were 26-35, buried in last place and nine games behind the Rangers on June 10, it looked like this season would be about developing the young kids and nothing more.
Melvin kept his guys playing hard, and suddenly the victories started to pile up. Since trailing the Rangers by 13 games on July 1, the A's have gone 36-18, passed the Angels and gotten to within 4 1/2 games of the Rangers in the AL West.
They've already hit more home runs (116) than all of last season (114). They've got poise, too, with 10 of their last 12 home victories coming by one run. They began play on Saturday with a 10-game winning streak in one-run games.
Their 19-5 July is the best single month for an American League team since the A's went 24-2 in August 2002. That month included a 20-game winning streak, and ended up making Beane really famous.
The A's are special again this summer, and who knows where it'll end? They're going against two battle-tested teams in the Angels and Rangers, and seven teams still appear in serious contention for the two AL Wild Card spots.
That said, this is a great time to be a fan of the A's. Coco Crisp's 15th-inning sacrifice fly scored Jemile Weeks with the winning run on Friday night, prompting a wild celebration of bear hugs and pies to the face.
It's not exactly what Beane expected, but it's the kind of season every baseball man lives for.
"This is the fun time of the year," Beane said.
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.