In several ways, Billy Beane is a gambler working with a bankroll. But there’s not much money to play with, so the Oakland Athletics general manager must be smart with it, and he needs to make the right moves.
Forget about shopping with a credit card and spending to win.
A coach or GM who does more with less always seems to possess a magic quality, and that’s the case with Beane, whose work was unique enough to make a movie out of it.
As baseball bettors know, it pays to believe in the A’s, a blue-collar, low-budget team that emerges from the All-Star break with the best record in the major leagues. And in no way is the 59-36 mark a fluke.
“It’s a complete team,” said Ken Korach, Oakland’s radio play-by-play broadcaster. “The A’s have been the best team in baseball, and if people want to favor them to win it all, I think there’s a justification to do that. But whether they are the team to beat or not, I don’t know.”
Korach, who formerly called UNLV basketball games, is well aware Oakland is the World Series favorite at Las Vegas sports books. Still, he has no interest in playing oddsmaker or claiming the A’s are primed to knock out the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels on their way to the American League title.
A baseball season is six months long, but the postseason can end in a day.
“I’ve been around it for so long,” Korach said, “I don’t take anything for granted.”
The same goes for Beane, who made a bold move on July 4, when he traded Oakland’s top prospect, shortstop Addison Russell, and two other players to the Chicago Cubs for right-handed starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. What needs to be done eventually is best done immediately, and the A’s got the pitching help they needed well in advance of the trading deadline.
“I think the A’s had to do that, and they were smart to do it first,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said. “The one thing they needed was front-end rotation guys, and they got that with Samardzija and Hammel. Samardzija is a big help. I feel the A’s can win it this year.”
At Station Casinos, Oakland is the 4-1 favorite to win the World Series, followed by the Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers each at 9-2. The Angels (7-1 odds) are 57-37 and trailing the A’s by 1½ games, and the tight AL West race forced Beane’s hand.
“People ask him if the trade for Samardzija and Hammel was to advance in the postseason,” Korach said. “Like Billy said, and I think he was right, ‘It would be arrogant to say that. We’ve got a division to win.’ ”
It’s a big step for the A’s to finally get over the postseason hurdle set up by the Tigers, who are vulnerable with former ace Justin Verlander’s decline. But it’s more important to win the division and avoid the one-game playoff between wild-card teams. If the standings hold, the Angels and Seattle Mariners will be the wild cards.
“You could face Felix Hernandez and be done in one game,” Korach said, referring to the Mariners ace.
At the LVH, the A’s are 2-3 favorites to win the AL West, with the Angels at 6-5 and Seattle at 15-1.
“I’m going to stick with Oakland,” LVH sports book manager Ed Salmons said. “The Angels have been red hot, and I think at some point they are going to cool off.”
It’s easy to identify the three hottest starters in the majors, and they are Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright and Hernandez. The National League playoffs look like a crapshoot, but the Dodgers deserve the favorite’s role because Kershaw can dominate a series. The biggest threat to the Dodgers?
“I still think it’s the team that made it to the World Series last year and lost,” Esposito said. “The Cardinals are one of the few teams that can match the Dodgers as far as pitching goes.”
If Tampa Bay deals lefty David Price, St. Louis is his most likely landing spot, making the Cardinals at 10-1 a potential value bet.
The A’s should hold off Mike Trout and the Angels mostly because their top four starters — Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Samardzija and Hammel — are second to none. Yoenis Cespedes leads an offense that has helped the A’s produce a major league-best run differential of plus-145, 95 runs better than both the Dodgers and Tigers.
Oakland, which opened the season at 15-1 to win the World Series with a regular-season win total of 87½, has been and will continue to be a smart bet.
Beane, working with a payroll of about $83 million that ranks 25th in the majors, is putting “Moneyball” back in the spotlight. The plot of the movie was the 2002 season, when the A’s ripped off a 20-game win streak but lost in the first round of the playoffs.
“That’s what this season reminds me of,” Korach said. “This is not a bunch of guys who will get to the postseason and be happy to be there.”
The A’s expect to win big, and Beane built them to win now. World Series or bust, he has made the right moves.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.