The A's came out of the post-All-Star weekend with the best record in baseball. Unfortunately for them, the team with the second-best record, the Los Angeles Angels, are in the same division, just 1½ games back, and now, they've added former A's closer Huston Street in a trade with the San Diego Padres, another of those teams playing for a future that never arrives.
For a time, it seemed the Seattle Mariners might get into the AL West race, but after the weekend, they were nine games back, pretenders not contenders. Too bad for them that they're not in the NL West, where their record would put them just behind the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Though their biggest star, Mike Trout, is homegrown, a 2009 draft pick who was in the majors by 2011, the Angels have mainly relied on signing high-priced free agents like Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
The A's path has been much different. Though their team salary has gone up, it is still near the bottom in Major League Baseball. They splurged on Yoenis Cespedes, who has awesome physical ability that hasn't yet been fully developed, but mainly, they've put together a team by picking up devalued players who have become stars — Brandon Moss is example No. 1 — or players who have converted from other positions, like Josh Donaldson (catcher to third base) or Sean Doolittle (first baseman to lights-out closer).
And, of course, they have very deep pitching, with pitching coach Curt Young getting the most out of some unlikely starters, as well as ace Sonny Gray, who was a first-round draft pick. Scott Kazmir, too, is having a great season. Kazmir has the physical ability and, equally important, the ability to mess with a hitter's thinking. In his last outing, he threw four straight changeups to one hitter and then put him away with a 93 mph fastball.
With all that pitching, A's general manager Billy Beane still made a trade to get two pitchers from the Chicago Cubs, one of them Jeff Samardjiza, who had been selected to the National League All-Star team.
If you root for underdogs, you have to like the A's, playing in perhaps the second-worst baseball stadium (Tampa Bay's is the worst, without question), with little hope of getting a new park any time soon as elected officials continue wrangling.
Still, O.co Coliseum can be a plus for the A's. The fans are very vocal, supportive of the home team, screaming at the opposition (Hunter Pence had some fun with them when the Giants played there in an interleague series). The vast foul areas and the dead air at night are a boon to pitchers.
There's also an unpublicized home-field advantage for the A's. Opposing teams usually stay at a hotel in San Francisco. After a night game, players go out on the town in San Francisco. If they have to get up early the next morning for a day game … connect the dots.
The A's would have to fall flat on their collective face to miss the playoffs but they're not thinking playoffs, they're thinking division championship. Go for it!
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.