Saturday’s game between the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals was billed as a tribute to two-time defending Home Run Derby Yoenis Cespedes, as the A's handed out 10,000 Cespedes T-shirts reading "La Potencia." While Cespedes was not physically there, the bodies brought in from general manager Billy Beane’s whirlwind of deadline deals helped replicate Cespedes in spirit.
The purpose of the Cespedes trade, Jon Lester, was brought in as an ace for the playoff stretch. However, unlike other trade acquisitions like Jake Peavy, he did not flirt with a no-hitter on Saturday night. Instead, he tossed 6⅔ innings, allowing 10 baserunners but only three earned runs in an 8-3 win over a quality Royals team. As uninteresting as flirting with a quality start might be, it is just one game and the A’s will take whatever they can get to stay ahead of the Los Angeles Angels.
The real story of this particular day was how the offense was still able to perform sans Cespedes, exploding for an eight-run fifth inning. Derek Norris took Cespedes's spot in the cleanup slot against Royals left-hander Jason Vargas and worked out two hits in four at-bats. The two players expected to replace Cespedes' production in aggregate, reclaimed A’s Sam Fuld and Jonny Gomes, also performed admirably, coincidentally.
During Saturday's game, while perhaps not as highlight-reely as Cespedes' spectacular throw from the right-field corner earlier this year, Fuld did not disappoint as he caught Mike Moustakas’ line drive to center field, then threw out Alex Gordon at the plate for an inning-ending double play. An inning later, Gomes led the Athletics' run splurge with a humble infield single. In that same inning, shortly after Gomes scored, Fuld reached base on a bunt single and, in a case of déjà vu, the aforementioned Gomes drove him in with a two-run single. As things stand right now, Fuld and Gomes will have to keep up the production for the A’s to win the AL West.
Though the A’s lead all of baseball in runs scored and run differential, they are only two games ahead of the Angels. While a star-studded rotation will definitely help in a best-of-five or best-of-seven playoff series, all of that gets thrown out the window if a random cold streak forces a one-game wild-card playoff in which only one of those stars will be allowed to shine. The A’s were able to replicate Cespedes' production with their deadline deals, but there are still some potential areas of improvement on offense. If Beane is truly going all-in this year, there's potential to pull a trigger on a waiver-wire deal for a bat.
Since the tinfoil era of Mark Ellis, the A’s have had continuous problems finding league-average production at second base from the stalled Jemile Weeks through the bespectacled Eric Sogard. Furthermore, their "best" offensive second baseman, Alberto Callaspo, has spent more time in the DH slot than at second base, accruing 118 at-bats this year as a DH, primarily against left-handed pitching.
However, as the Giants' signing and subsequent ditching of Dan Uggla showed, finding a second baseman isn’t that easy. Nick Franklin might have been a good fit, but the Mariners needed his services as a trade chip for Austin Jackson in the David Price deal. The Colorado Rockies, whom the A’s have dealt with in the past, might have been a good trade partner, but they couldn't pull the trigger on a deal because of injuries and possible inertia. Kelly Johnson might have also helped, but instead, he’s going to help the Red Sox. The cheaper options, alas, might have passed with the trade deadline.
But if the Lester trade truly indicates the A’s are going for it in 2014, then there is still the possibility of a waiver-wire deal. If there is some possibility of adding payroll, the Phillies' Chase Utley or Marlon Byrd are examples of players who could pass through waivers and yet would help the A’s on offense. While Utley is left-handed, he has performed better against left-handers than Callaspo and would still crush right-handers.
As a right-hander, Byrd would take at-bats Callapso had previously been sucking up while shunting Gomes to the DH role. Other options for right-handed thump include Michael Cuddyer (if he gets healthy) or Mike Napoli.
The A’s are the best team in the American League, but acquiring all that pitching might be for naught if the Angels bump them over to the wild-card game. Even if they avoid that, the A’s have a high chance of facing the Tigers who, with three Cy Young winners in their rotation, have stifled the A’s in the past. If the Athletics hope to make it to the World Series, they just might need a bit more offensive help.
Richard Bergstrom writes for Rockies Zingers, a SweetSpot network blog on the Colorado Rockies.