This is as good a time as any to heap praise onto the Oakland A’s. Through about 50 games, no other team in the league has a run differential of +50, and the A’s have been flirting with +100 for about a week or so. A 10-0 win over the Detroit Tigers on Monday put the A’s at this triple-digit differential, and leaves them, for now, with the most runs scored in the American League (Toronto is two runs behind). The other top offenses in the American League feature at least one world-caliber slugger: Toronto has both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion; the White Sox have Cuban phenom Jose Abreu; the Angels have Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. No such stars play for Oakland, although Josh Donaldson is starting to get the national recognition he deserves. Donaldson is tied for the most home runs on the team with first baseman Brandon Moss; they have 12, equal to Bautista, though since the start of 2013 Moss actually leads Bautista in homers, 42 to 40. Prolific lefty sluggers at first base are almost universally lauded, but Moss flies under the radar thanks to Oakland’s aggressive pursuit of the platoon advantage. Though Moss is by no means a bad hitter against lefties, he managed only 505 plate appearances last year, right on the line distinguishing full-time from part-time players. (To qualify for a batting title, a hitter must have 501 at-bats. Moss had 446.)
This year Moss has played in 50 of 51 games, tied for the team lead with Donaldson. Right-handed Daric Barton has barely been a factor except as a late-game defensive replacement, and he was hitting so poorly in limited time that the A’s sent him down to Sacramento a couple of weeks ago. Kyle Blanks, acquired from San Diego, is his replacement, and demonstrates some power potential at least, but he hasn’t done much through 800-plus major league plate appearances. Moss’ place in the everyday lineup has never been more secure, and by the end of the season he can establish himself as one of the premier left-handed hitters in the American League. Who is there to challenge him? Prince Fielder is hurt; much of Shin-Soo Choo’s value comes from his keeping the bat on his shoulder (.435 OBP = goddamn); Victor Martinez is technically a switch-hitter; Big Papi is old*; and Robinson Cano might be doing well but he is playing beyond the event horizon. (That was, perhaps, the clumsiest Safeco-Field-is-a-black-hole joke ever written.)
*Not a great reason to discredit someone hitting as well as he ever has, I know. But David Ortiz will have to cede the limelight one of these days, and Moss is poised to take his place.
The most amazing thing about these A’s is their run prevention, by far the best the AL. The A’s have allowed the fewest runs in the majors, which is implausible over one-third of a season and probably impossible to maintain the rest of the way. If you look at the leaderboard you’ll find five National League teams between the A’s and the second AL team, the Seattle Mariners. Thirty-five runs separate the A’s and the Mariners, and that figure probably understates the difference a little, because, as I said, Seattle is a black hole.