In a crowded AL West, the Oakland Athletics are flying under the radar

It’s tough to standout as a fourth-place team, but the Oakland Athletics are used to the underdog role. The A’s have, in recent history, been forced to make the most of having less than their opponents. They are doing it again in 2018, but with players that are worth paying attention to this time.

First baseman Matt Olson is the best power hitter in baseball that no one is talking about. He is the guy that everyone should want to face-off with Giancarlo Stanton in a fantasy home run derby. Olson’s average exit velocity on balls he puts in play is 94.6 mph, the fourth-best rating the league. One of his home runs this season traveled 475 feet. Only Marcell Ozuna (479) has hit one farther than that.

Khris Davis has prodigious power in his own right. His average exit velocity of 92.8 mph is ranked 13th in MLB. His 13 home runs leads the team, and he could be due for more. Only 20.6 percent of his fly balls are leaving the park, a fierce drop from the 26.9 percent he saw last season. Plus, he has just a .258 batting average on balls in play. Given how much hard contact he gets, that number should be higher, especially when you compare it to his .278 lifetime BABIP.

While Olson and Davis are fun to watch, neither one is even the best player on the A’s. Jed Lowrie is battling the Astros Jose Altuve for the distinction of being the best second baseman in the American League. The 34-year-old Lowrie is putting up the best numbers of his 10-year career. Through 56 games, he has a 1.9 WAR after batting .295/.363/.487 and playing above-average defense.

On the other side of the diamond

Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Matt Chapman may be the best defensive third baseman in the game. His 5.7 defensive rating ranks behind only the Indians Jose Ramirez in all of baseball. Chapman can hold his own with the bat as well: nine home runs, .427 slugging percentage.

On top of that, Dustin Fowler is just beginning what could potentially be a special career in the Oakland outfielder. Fowler was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees last July. He immediately became one the A’s top prospects, and now he’s showing what he can do both at the plate and in the field at the big league level.

We can’t ignore the best part of the this Oakland team. The pitching staff has been dynamite, and the unit is led by Daniel Mengden and his old-timey mustache. Through 12 starts, Mengden has a 2.91 ERA and 1.8 WAR. The right-hander gets by with just adequate stuff (low-90s fastball, etc.) by walking less than a batter (0.97 BB/9) per nine innings and allowing even fewer home runs (0.73 HR/9). He doesn’t get many strikeouts either (5.81 K/9), but that means his outings go quickly and keep you engaged.

On top of that, the Athletics look good while putting together a solid team on the field. Their dark green alternate jersey with “A’s” on the left chest has been a nice top for a couple of years. They upgraded their aesthetics further this season with the introduction of the kelly green shirt that has the “Oakland” script across the front. It’s a retro outfit that fits the franchise and the fan base.

Who knows if this club has what it takes to make the playoffs out of the AL West. They may find it increasingly tough to compete with teams that have Mike Trout, Shoehi Ohtani and the stacked roster in Houston. But rest assured that there are few clubs more fun and more worth your time than the 2018 Oakland A’s.

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