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A's hanging on to majors' best record still at season's three-quarters mark

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The 2014 Oakland Athletics have had a great season, no doubt, but as the team enters the final quarter of the regular season with a MLB-best 73-47 record and stellar +172 scoring differential, the A's have hit a bit of a snag in the last month—barely playing .500 ball in the month of August.

Their 7-6 record since the acquisition of Jon Lester from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for left fielder Yoenis Cespedes doesn't tell the whole story, however, and this Oakland team still is on target for making the postseason and perhaps a deep October run, as well.

The A's have lost three games in the standings to the Los Angeles Angels since the halfway mark of the season, but they still lead the American League West by 2.5 games. They've had the best record in the majors all to themselves since June 18. They've hit a bit of a lull right now, but this is familiar territory for the Bob Melvin Era Athletics.

Last season, entering August with a 63-45 record, the A's scuffled to a mere 14-13 mark in August 2013. But they rebounded with a 19-8 September to clinch their second AL West title in a row. Perhaps this is more of the same in 2014.

For a "3/4-term" report card, let's look at the team's nitty-gritty details:

  • Offense: The A's lead the majors in runs scored with 586 through 120 games. That's an average of 4.88 runs per game. It's down a little bit from where the offense was performing at the halfway mark, but it's hard to nit pick. Oakland leads MLB with 444 walks, as well. So when the A's aren't walking, they're not scoring with that team .251 batting average (16th in MLB). It would be good for the Oakland hitters to remember this in order to be more consistent on offense. GRADE: A-
  • Defense: Oakland fielders have made 80 errors, which is the sixth-worst number in the majors. The team fielding percentage is the seventh-worst mark (.983). The A's have given up only 29 unearned runs this year, however, and only three teams are better at limiting the damage done by poor fielding. But Oakland really could cut down on the extra outs its giving the opponents. Those catch up to you eventually. GRADE: B-
  • Starting rotation: In flux all season, the finally-stabilized rotation has compiled a 3.33 ERA, which is the fifth-best mark in the majors. Opposing hitters have a .239 batting average against the Oakland rotation (fifth in MLB). The addition of Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and Lester to the rotation has to be considered a plus heading down the stretch. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir have been mostly stellar as the stalwarts since Opening Day. GRADE: A-
  • Bullpen: The relievers just had a 28.2-scoreless streak broken, so they've been solid. The ERA is fifth overall (2.85), and while the overall save percentage still is pretty bad (ninth worst in MLB), we can blame a lot of that on the now-departed Jim Johnson (good riddance). Opponents' OPS is just .594, the best mark in the majors. GRADE: A-
  • Manager/coaching: Oakland is playing seven games under its Pythagorean projection, which is somewhat inevitable with the big scoring differential. The 17-15 record in one-run games needs to improve, to a level like the extra-innings record (11-6). But no one can really question Manager Bob Melvin's guidance of this team, not when they have the best record in baseball since he took over in the middle of 2011. GRADE: A-

If we give equal weight to all five areas, the 2014 Oakland A's are grading out to an A-/B+ right now as a whole, which is right in line with the previous two "report cards" this season. But the recent slowdown has lowered this mark a bit, and the A's will need to finish their last 42-game stretch strong, strong, strong to grade out an "A" for their season.

(The team doesn't just get the top grade because it's got the best record in the majors, you know. No team is above criticism.)

The Oakland organization has goals for this October, and General Manager Billy Beane has made huge trades to make the team's tenth World Series title a distinct possibility. Now, it's up to the players and the manager to make it happen.

Can they?

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