OAKLAND -- The beauty of baseball is that the A's dead sprint into the 2012 playoffs felt magical, too magical to be repeated, only to have their impressive charge toward the halfway point of this season drag us toward the undiluted truth.
This is not magic. The A's, despite ritual spankings from Seattle, are good.
And in today's powerhouse-free American League, good can go very far.
The A's are defying logic and upending wisdom and once again waging compelling debate with the premise conveyed by the team's owners, who have spent years bleating that the A's can't compete while bearing the burden of their homely bowl of a ballpark.
The facts, however, continue to tell us this argument is bogus. Oakland won the A.L. West last season and sits atop the division in 2013, with a record that ranks second in the league and virtually tied for fourth among MLB's 30 teams. Over their past 162 games, the A's are 101-61.
Memo to owners John Fisher and Lew Wolff: Going back to last July 1, your Team of the Perpetually Disadvantaged owns the best record in baseball.
Examining numbers and listening to scouts, as well as others who work within the game, the A's success thus far can be attributed to several factors, from pitching better than most, to wearing out opposing staffs and destroying the weakest of the MLB flock.
The most intriguing element, though, is that the A.L. is short on extraordinary clubs.
"Look around," said one scout who asked not to be named. "Where is the really scary team? Do you really fear Boston or Baltimore? The Yankees aren't what we're used to. The Angels were supposed to be good, but they've been a mess.
"Detroit comes closest to being a great team, but even they should be better. I still think the Tigers are the best bet for the World Series, but they can be beaten by a number of teams. Oakland is one of them."
Upon arriving at the Coliseum on Saturday, the A's had won 21 of their last 27, including a recent three-game sweep of the once fearsome Yankees, who along with the Red Sox and Orioles are in the thick of the race in the A.L. East. The Tigers own the Central, as they should, despite a decidedly untrustworthy bullpen.
More directly, the A's seem to have only Texas to be concerned with in the West. They are two games up on the Rangers and 10 up on the Angels -- the two teams generally projected to battle for the division. Houston is irrelevant, as anticipated. Seattle, supposedly much improved, is 91/2 back and has the league's quietest bats.
"If we could get a little bit of offense," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said, "we'd be on the move."
They seem to find enough offense when playing the A's, whose own offense shuts down at the sight of a Seattle pitcher, certainly one as marvelous as Felix Hernandez, whose 4-0 victory Saturday left Oakland with a 3-6 record against the M's.
That only means the A's are 38-23 against other opponents, all of which make up a great deal more of the remaining schedule. The record is remarkable on its own, all the more considering the fears in the wind at the start of the season.
The A's were defending their division flag despite offseason losses that included right-hander Brandon McCarthy, who started opening day in 2012, and outfielder/D.H. Jonny Gomes, who was a clubhouse leader. Stephen Drew, a late-season acquisition who plays a reliable shortstop, also departed.
Through the first quarter of the season, Oakland watched its disabled list populated by the likes of opening-day starter Brett Anderson, second baseman Scott Sizemore and all four primary outfielders: Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Chris Young.
Yet the A's roll right along, riding depth and versatility and pitching -- especially the bullpen, where closer Grant Balfour has yet to blow a save -- under the guidance of manager Bob Melvin. The irrepressible A's are 30-2 when leading after seven innings, 9-1 when tied.
"There's a lot of trust within the players here that no one has to be The Guy," Melvin said. "We have Coco at the top and Yoenis in the middle, then we have a lot of good players that we can mix and match with. There aren't a whole lot of big egos here, guys that think they have to be the guy, or that they have to be in (the lineup) every day."
The A's are not a surprise. They are not sneaking up on anybody. They are a good club in a league without great clubs, which means they have every reason to believe they can find their way back to October.
Seattle (Hisashi Iwakuma 7-1) at A's (Bartolo Colon 8-2), 1:05 p.m. CSNCA
Blanco's slam helps Hernandez, Mariners defeat A's 4-0. Page 5