Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Holy "Moneyball," it's happening again.
Brad Pitt isn't restlessly pacing around the clubhouse and there's no grumpy Philip Seymour Hoffman in the dugout, but this year's Oakland Athletics team seems to be following a script eerily similar to the one we saw on movie screens last September.
The Athletics, a team that hasn't made the postseason in more than half a decade, have taken the league by storm. And they're doing it with a cast just as unlikely as the patchwork bunch that made "Moneyball" a reality back in 2002.
Oakland only sent one player to the All-Star Game in Kansas City two weeks ago (closer Ryan Cook) but that hasn't stopped this squad from compiling an MLB- best 16-3 record in the month of July.
Don't let the lack of star power fool you. The A's have given us plenty of great performances to sink our teeth into this month.
Though not the offensive juggernaut that the Texas Rangers or New York Yankees claim to be, Oakland's lineup has been very effective in July. The A's have crushed 31 homers this month, second-best in the American League. Oakland entered today batting .256 since July 1, which isn't great but it's still a vast improvement from how it was hitting earlier in the year (.225 through the season's first three months).
The offensive charge has been led by the relatively unknown trio of Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick.
Let's start with the journeyman Crisp, who enjoyed a brief stint of fantasy relevance last season after leading the American League in steals (49).
Crisp got off to a brutal start in 2012, posting a .219 batting average in his first 53 games while spending nearly a month on the DL with a mysterious ear infection.
But July is about second chances and Crisp has made the most of his. Crisp has hit .359 this month with three homers and six RBIs. Among players with 50 or more plate appearances, his average is the seventh-highest in the American League.
The 32-year-old outfielder is also slowly creeping up the league's stolen base ranks. His four thefts this month give him 20 for the season, good for fifth- best among American League base stealers.
Rookie outfielder Yoenis Cespedes has been equally hard to pitch to. He has the league's 16th-highest average in July (.342) and since the All-Star break, he is hitting an astounding .458 with four dingers and 14 RBIs.
Reddick has been the most consistent hitter in Oakland's lineup this season. His solo home run Thursday was his 22nd of 2012 and the fourth he has hit since the calendar changed to July. He's hitting .315 this month with 10 RBIs.
Crisp, Cespedes and Reddick have all been important contributors this month, but clearly Oakland's strength is in its pitching. Before getting blown out by the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday, the A's had compiled a dominant 2.37 ERA in July while holding opponents to a .229 batting average. Only the St. Louis Cardinals have posted higher marks in those categories (2.26 ERA, .225 BAA in July).
Lefthander Tommy Milone got knocked around on Thursday (7 IP, 8 H, 5 ERs), but before that, he had the American League's third-lowest ERA (1.35) this month with just three runs allowed in 20 innings. Even in a sloppy effort Thursday, Milone was still able to register seven strikeouts without walking anyone. Milone, who came over in the Gio Gonzalez trade this past offseason, has been a terrific addition for the A's and also for anyone who was smart enough to add him in fantasy this season.
Youngster A.J. Griffin (3-0, 2.63 in July) and Travis Blackley (2-0, 2.01) have also been strong for the A's and even the unpredictable Bartolo Colon is having one of his best months of the season (3.18 ERA). Milone, Blackley (sixth), Griffin (11th) and Colon (15th) all rank in the American League's top-15 in ERA for July and though Jarrod Parker's ERA is only 4.26, he still holds a 3-1 record since the start of the month.
Let's not forget about the bullpen either because the A's have one of the league's best. Jerry Blevins and Ryan Cook might not be household names, but so far this month they've held opponents to batting averages of .103 and .138 respectively.
Grant Balfour lost his job as the team's closer to Cook earlier this season but he's hung tough by limiting batters to a .179 average in July. Overall, this group (also including Sean Doolittle, Jim Miller, Jordan Norberto and Evan Scribner) has gone 7-0 this month with a 1.80 ERA.
But just as the team's phenomenal run in 2002 eventually came to an end, so too will Oakland's current streak, especially given the stiff competition it will face within its division (Texas leads the A's by five and a half games while the Los Angeles Angels hold a slim half-game advantage over Oakland). The tricky part will be trying to figure out which Athletics players will stand the test of time and be worth holding onto in fantasy.
Given the inconsistency Crisp has exhibited at the plate throughout his career (he's only hit .300 once and his career-high in homers is just 16), it seems unlikely that his offensive surge will continue into August. Still, he might be worth a try if you're desperate for stolen bases.
Reddick (25) and Cespedes (26) are both young and appear to be entering the prime of their careers. They could go through some ups and downs as the season progresses, but both have enough upside to warrant a spot on most fantasy rosters, especially in keeper leagues.
Our sample size might not be large enough to judge Oakland's young starting rotation. But the A's have always had a knack for producing elite starting pitching (Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Dan Haren, Rich Harden, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito all come to mind) and the Oakland Coliseum has historically been a pitcher's park, so I believe that this young, extremely deep staff has a bright future ahead of it.
And who wouldn't want to see "Moneyball II"? I'm hoping they find a part for Tom Hanks in the sequel.