Nevertheless, the A's check all the boxes. They rank second in the AL with 466 runs scored, even though they play in one of baseball's least hitter-friendly venues. The rotation sports a league-best 3.13 ERA, and the bullpen is third in ERA (3.01) and has issued the fewest walks in the league (80). The A's are second to Baltimore among AL teams in defensive runs saved and second to Washington in the majors with an 81.8 percent stolen base success rate. Their run differential of plus-145 is the fourth best since 1940 by an American League team at the All-Star break. Only the 1969 Orioles, 1998 Yankees and 2001 Mariners were better.
The A's have a perpetually underrated pitching coach in Curt Young, a hitting coach (Chili Davis) who has made a big impact in a short time and a manager (Melvin) who pushes all the right buttons.
"The best part about Bob is his calm demeanor," Norris said. "He's never yelling at players or putting us down. He's always encouraging us, and he keeps things simple and lets us be who we want to be. He doesn't overmanage or micromanage, and guys respond real positively to that. It leads to success because we're comfortable in our own skin."
Norris and Doolittle conceal that skin beneath gnarly beards that would have made them comfortable fits on last year's World Series winners in Boston. The A's also elicit some comparisons to the 2010 San Francisco Giants, a collection of players who embraced their designation as "A Band of Misfits." Fate -- with a big assist from Beane and assistant general manager David Forst -- helped bring them to a place where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.
"It's part of our team character," Doolittle said. "Everybody took this weird, circuitous route to the big leagues. And everybody plays with a chip on their shoulder, like they shouldn't have been passed over and they have something to prove. It's a big part of why we've been successful as a team."
Amid protracted lease negotiations and calls for a new ballpark for the Athletics, the O.co Coliseum's reputation on a national stage is secure. It's the place where toilets overflow and modern amenities are virtually nonexistent. When Selig called the park a "pit" during a radio interview this past fall, he differed from the conventional wisdom only on the semantics: Most people refer to the place as a "dump."
The A's haven't drawn 2 million fans in a season since 2005. But the Coliseum still rocks when 30,000 people show up, and the Oakland players embrace it in all its dilapidated, run-down glory. They use the park to their advantage when Donaldson hurdles the tarp to make another acrobatic catch, or Josh Reddick plays the right-field corner with aplomb, or Doolittle feeds off the crowd's energy to close out a save with a 1-2-3 ninth. As the A's win series after series, they revel in the knowledge that the opposition can't wait to leave town.
"No opposing team likes playing in the Coliseum," Moss said. "It's a great place to pitch, but it's an awful place to hit. It's big, it's cold, and the foul territory goes for two miles, so you don't even get rewarded for battling and fouling pitches off. There are only two places that have a crowd like we do, and that's San Francisco and Oakland. Our fans can be really overpowering when they get into it. When the place is packed, it's the most fun place to play. You feel like you're at a college football game."