Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton: It's October: No place for 'Moneyball'

Published: Friday, Oct. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 - 7:13 pm

OAKLAND – "Moneyball" is always an exhilarating story until the final chapter when a happy ending never comes.

The intellectual thriller of a bargain-basement baseball team rising up to outfox money and power always dissolves into a predictable downer.

It always fades to black with the same ugly scene playing out on the football-ravaged field at the former Oakland Coliseum: A bigger, wealthier team with vastly superior resources celebrates a victory over the A's while gold-clad mourners confront a death-and-taxes reality.

Big Money always beats "Moneyball."

The incomparable Detroit Tigers starter Justin Verlander and his wide-body teammates were men to Oakland's boys in a 3-0 series clinching win over the A's on Thursday – a winner-take-all climax that really wasn't that close.

Detroit had to win the last two games against the A's to advance to the American League Championship Series and did. They found an extra gear, a higher level of performance financed beyond the means of "Moneyball" – the celebrated A's system of winning with low payrolls, big data, keen scouting and cheap, young players.

On Tuesday in Detroit, Tigers ace Max Scherzer countered with a resource the A's can't afford – unreal talent.

Facing the bases loaded with A's, no outs and a clinching victory for Oakland in the offing, Scherzer cranked up his lethal repertoire up to 98-mph pitches the A's couldn't handle. The A's scored no runs and lost.

On Thursday, Verlander earned every penny of his $180 million contract by being perfect through five innings. He walked his first batter in the sixth and surrendered his first hit in the seventh, completely neutralizing A's fans who numbered more than 46,000.

Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera – the otherworldly slugger who was hobbled all series – reached into his bottomless well of talent and hit a two-run homer off game A's starter Sonny Gray.

That was the ballgame. The stars won it. They cost a fortune, but fortunes win championships.

Detroit paid one to build an ALCS contender to match the Boston Red Sox – a powerhouse with an even bigger payroll.

In the National League, the juggernaut Los Angeles Dodgers will play the wealthy St. Louis Cardinals. In order of payrolls, the Dodgers are No. 2 in all of baseball with an Opening Day payroll of $220 million. The Red Sox are fourth at $150 million and the Tigers fifth at a $148 million. The Cardinals are 11th at $115 million – nearly double the A's at $60 million.

It's no fun to talk about this. Competitive balance is a much more positive story. And compared to other sports in America and abroad, baseball is downright democratic.

But let's not confuse reality – competitive balance in baseball typically means the A's, Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals and others will scrap and claw to the joy of fans in the summer heat.

When the weather turns and it's cool and damp as it was in Oakland on Thursday night, it becomes the same old story. Cinderella rarely plays baseball in late October.

"Moneyball" is exposed for what it is – an efficient way to run a business. It's a fetish for baseball stat geeks who have venerated A's GM Billy Beane to the point where Brad Pitt played Beane in a movie.

Yet most national baseball pundits couldn't name six A's players or break down how they do what they do because they spent the season watching the big clubs.

Names such as Yoenis Cespedes, Sonny Gray, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Grant Balfour and CoCo Crisp all have distant rings to the greater baseball community.

That Cespedes, a Cuban defector who barely speaks English, is the A's best player is illustrative of the greater point here: A's baseball is a great concept but not a team built for October baseball.

With Thursday's loss, the organization is now 0-6 in Game 5 of the ALDS.

Five of those losses have occurred in Oakland.

It happens because October baseball is about big performances by big, heavily veteran talent. The Tigers tabbed Scherzer in a relief role when he absolutely had to be huge and was. And Verlander? In four playoff starts against the A's over the last two seasons he hasn't given up a run in 27 innings.

Gray, only 23 and so full of talent, didn't pitch badly on Thursday. He just couldn't match a master. A's hitters, seemingly unable to shorten their swings, couldn't touch Verlander. A's third baseman Josh Donaldson, mentioned as an MVP candidate with Cabrera, was invisible and couldn't make a critical throw on a potential sixth inning double play. A Tigers run scored and the A's were done.

This is not to disparage the A's system, their unreal fans and a superb baseball operation. They are great at what they do. But it's October now.

Their time is up.

Every big game from now until Halloween is for the big boys. They paid the money. It's their show.

Call The Bee's Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton, news columnist

Marcos Breton

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I'm supposed to connect the dots on issues, people and relationships that cause things to happen or prevent them from happening in our region. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, I have voted for Barry Bonds - twice. I am a native of Northern California. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Phone: 916-321-1096
Twitter: @MarcosBreton

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