This is not the type of miracle Billy Beane had in mind, and not the type of run that inspires movie producers.
Often regarded as brilliant for his work as general manager of the Oakland Athletics, Beane tinkered too much with the best team in baseball and turned it into a bad joke.
The A’s, in the midst of a late-summer meltdown, are doing the unthinkable by threatening to miss the postseason. Beane made two bold moves in July before the trade deadline, and his moves delivered the American League West title to the Los Angeles Angels.
“I thought Oakland would win the World Series,” Westgate Las Vegas sports book manager Ed Salmons said. “I’ve never seen a collapse like this. It’s mind-boggling.”
A stunning turnaround has bettors and bookmakers watching the A’s closely down the stretch, in Las Vegas’ version of “Moneyball.”
Oakland owned a 66-41 record and a 2½-game lead over the Angels when Beane traded power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for left-handed ace Jon Lester on July 31.
That was Beane’s second big deal. He sent Oakland’s top two prospects to the Chicago Cubs for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel on July 5.
Samardzija threw eight scoreless innings Wednesday, but he was pulled and the bullpen imploded in a 6-1 loss to Texas. The Angels (95-58) celebrated their division title by spraying champagne, while the A’s fell behind by 11½ games.
Oakland (83-69) lost to the Rangers again Thursday and is 17-28 since trading for Lester, who has done his part by going 5-3 with a 2.30 ERA in nine starts for the A’s. But the offense has slumped without Cespedes in the middle of the lineup, and Beane’s new-look team has lost its swagger.
At the Westgate book, Oakland’s regular-season win total opened at 89½ and closed 87. Miraculously, those who bet the A’s to go under the total have a good shot to cash tickets. Most of the “under” money was wagered at 88½ and 88.
“There were a lot of people who were anti-Oakland to start the year,” Salmons said. “Lester has pitched great for them, but they always say team chemistry is so fragile.”
With 10 games remaining, the A’s need six wins to reach 89 and make the bookmakers winners. Oakland hosts Philadelphia and the Angels in a pair of three-game series before finishing the regular season with four road games against the Rangers, who have the worst record in the majors.
“The A’s schedule coming home is about as easy as you could ask,” Salmons said.
The Angels easily topped their win total of 87½. Here is a look at some other notable win-total decisions:
■ Los Angeles Dodgers — The Dodgers (87-66) are trying to hold off San Francisco in the National League West. The Dodgers’ win total, which ranged from 93 to 94, is likely to stay under.
■ Chicago Cubs — Few clubs are showcasing better prospects than the Cubs, whose future looks bright, especially if team president Theo Epstein makes a run to sign Lester as a free agent this offseason. The public bet the Cubs (68-85) over their opening total of 68 and drove it to 70.
■ Cincinnati Reds — The Cubs could overtake the Reds (71-82) and send them into the NL Central basement. Cincinnati wagers are already decided, with its win total opening at 83 and closing 84.
“Everyone loved the Reds,” Salmons said. “The Reds are dead.”
■ Houston Astros — Bo Porter was fired as manager Sept. 1, when the Astros were 59-79 and overachieving. The win total for Houston (67-86) opened at 62½ and closed 64.
■ Detroit Tigers — The AL Central title and the Tigers’ win total are races to the wire. The number on Detroit (84-68) opened at 90½ and closed 89½.
“The sharps bet the Tigers under and the squares bet them over,” Salmons said.
■ Kansas City Royals — The Royals, 83-68 and a half-game back before opening a home series against the Tigers today, have topped their win total that opened at 80½ and closed 82½.
“The public was infatuated with the Royals,” Salmons said, “and they were right.”
■ New York Yankees — The curtain is closing on Derek Jeter’s final season, with the Yankees (78-74) fading from playoff contention and heading under their win total of 85½.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.