The Athletics have had a whole lot go wrong for them in 2012, but for nearly every negative, there has been a surprising positive. Their starting pitching depth has been constantly tested, and that's been recognized, but the success of their lineup -- more specifically, unexpected members of it -- has been important in keeping them in this race as well. It hasn't always been the same player or players, and some of those contributors haven't even kept up their productive pace all year long. But there's almost always been someone to help carry the offense when the A's needed it, and it's often been someone surprising doing the lifting.
First, it was Josh Reddick. Acquired from the Red Sox in the Andrew Bailey deal, Reddick hit .268/.348/.532 in the first half of the year. He's slowed down since, hitting .218/.260/.396, continuing to hit for power but losing out on batting average. That's at least in part due to his .246 batting average on balls in play in the second half, but some of it was coming back down to earth, and manager Bob Melvin thinks Reddick might be trying a little too hard to get back on track. Even with the slump, though, Reddick has posted a 112 OPS+ and 111 wRC+, while also playing excellent defense. He's been a tremendous addition to the A's, worth well over four wins according to Baseball Reference and Fangraphs. (Baseball Prospectus has him closer to three, thanks to less enthusiasm for his glove. Counterpoint, and follow-up counterpoint.)
We should have seen Reddick as a productive outfielder coming, but his acquisition was seen as the A's rebuilding and taking a risk on a former prospect with a tendency to swing. Instead, he's a key piece of a competitive team, something the Red Sox, sans Reddick, are not in 2012.
When Reddick slowed down, the A's kept on producing, thanks to others stepping in. Another former Red Sox prospect, this one further removed from his initial Boston ties, has been easily the most surprising -- and most productive -- of all of them. Brandon Moss, who is now 28 years old and already had 249 major-league games under his belt, has hit .284/.353/.591 for the A's, bashing 21 homers, nearly one-third of his total hits.
He first joined the A's in the majors in early June, and has played in 81 of the team's 103 games since. While Moss used to be a prospect -- Baseball America rated him 72 in their top 100 back in 2005 -- it's been a long time since that mattered. Back then, Moss was heading into his age-21 season at Double-A, following a strong campaign as a 20-year-old in Low- and High-A. Moss put together a 931 OPS on the year -- that remained his career-best in the minors until the first half of 2012.
Moss signed with the A's before the year, after he was dealt to the Pirates in 2008 and signed as a free agent with the Phillies before 2011. It was a minor-league deal, and even the A's couldn't have envisioned what he's accomplished with them. There are definite problems with his performance -- he's striking out over 30 percent of the time, and getting by in part due to a .347 BABIP -- but it's hard to argue about it in the present, especially days after smacking a three-run homer to win a game in extra innings and keep the A's playoff hopes alive.
Moss is a significant part of the reason -- along with post-hype prospect, Chris Carter -- that the A's have hit a major-league leading 110 homers in the 73 games since the break, after going deep 83 times in their first 86. These are the same A's who have struggled to hit in their recent iterations, and play in a park that discourages the very idea. Their ranking is as surprising as those who contributed to it.
Carter joined up right before July, and did his part with 16 homers in his 66 games. There's also Josh Donaldson, who has hit eight of his nine homers in the 44 games he's played since returning to Oakland in mid-August. Donaldson fought for a job in the spring, but ended up back in the minors. That break worked out for him, as he's hit .291/.357/.503 since his recall, after posting a 395 OPS in his first 28 contests.
Donaldson is a former backstop who has spent nearly all of his time at third in 2012. He was drafted by the Cubs back in 2007, and sent to Oakland as part of the mid-season Rich Harden deal in 2008. The A's felt Donaldson would be a better hitter after moving out from behind the plate, and if he keeps it up, he'll end what's been a lengthy stretch of inadequacy at the hot corner. He was essentially an average hitter in the Pacific Coast League. Sacramento is more problematic for hitters than your average PCL park; basically, the A's seem to be have been right in their belief Donaldson would improve. And the timing couldn't have been better.
The A's had production from expected places, but it's been the performances of the unexpected that have helped keep them within reach of the AL West crown and ahead of the Angels, who were considered in the spring to be the smart bet to give Texas problems. Even if all of this fails to last into 2013, what matters is that it's working for Oakland right now, and has given them a chance at October baseball.