Despite winning their division and taking the Detroit Tigers to the limit in a five-game playoff series just last year, the Oakland A's were once again seen as underdogs in the eyes of many baseball experts going into the 2013 season.
The Los Angeles Angels were expected to win the division after they had their big free-agent spending spree highlighted by signing Josh Hamilton.
While the A's certainly haven't run away with the division themselves, they own a comfortable lead over those same Angels going into the All-Star break. In fact, Oakland owns an 11-game lead over the Angels after the first half of the season.
Not only are the A's ahead of the Angels, they are ahead of the Texas Rangers as well (by two games).
The A's will go into the break the same way they ended the 2012 regular season: as division leaders.
It wasn't enough to be a first-place team going into the break to prove they are for real. The A's had to go against a powerhouse in the Boston Red Sox to end the first half. Oakland went toe-to-toe with Boston and took two of three from the best team in the American League.
It was a great way to go into the break. And perhaps the All-Star Game's biggest snub, Josh Donaldson, won the game with a walk-off RBI single in the 11th inning.
Grant Balfour also proved his value. He struck out the side in the ninth inning of Oakland's 11-inning win. Balfour fell short of votes at first but was later added to the AL roster as a replacement.
Balfour replaces teammate Bartolo Colon, who had been Oakland's only All-Star prior to Balfour's selection. Colon is ineligible because he started for the A's in the 11-inning win.
The A's were given more recognition from the baseball world when Yoenis Cespedes was selected to the AL team for the Home Run Derby earlier in the week. Although Cespedes has struggled to hit for average, he possesses one of baseball's most explosive bats and will get to showcase that talent in the derby.
With Cespedes going to the derby, Balfour and Colon getting All-Star recognition and the acknowledgement from AL manager Jim Leyland that Donaldson should be an All-Star, the A's are starting to get recognition from the baseball world.
The A's have come a long way from the preseason rankings of ESPN (available above). Now, Oakland must prove it can carry momentum all the way through October.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!