Game: 2013 World Series
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Oakland, California
Date: Wednesday, October 23 – Thursday, October 31
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics
The first baseball what-if for this summer is an unfamiliar one.
The Oakland Athletics have not won a pennant for over 30 years now, their last coming in 1990, a year after their ninth World Series title in franchise history.
In that same time span, the Pittsburgh Pirates have not done too much of anything, their last winning season coming since the 1992 season.
Now, the A’s are competing for their second straight division title while the Pirates are on pace for 90 wins and their first division title since their tenure in the NL East.
The reality of both teams is that it wouldn’t be surprising to see both of them finish in third place a few months from now. But with a few factors continuing to go the right way, a lot of ghosts could be exorcised come October.
How Oakland gets there
Somehow the A's are once again winning with a roster with only a handful of recognizable names for a casual fan.
But with third baseman Josh Donaldson finally coming into his own as one of the most productive players in the league, it's no wonder why Oakland had already scored 400 runs coming into July.
The rest of the offensive stats are a little less notable though as the pitching is what's kept Oakland battling off Texas for first place in the AL West.
Bartolo Colon (yes, 40-year-old Bartolo Colon) has 12 wins with one week remaining before the All-Star Break, and he's leading a staff in or near the Top 5 of every major league pitching category.
How Pittsburgh gets there
There is life in PNC Park again, thanks to little to no life at the bats of Pittsburgh opponents. Francisco Liriano, the newly-returned A.J. Burnett, and closer Jason Grilli are leading the force to league bests 3.12 team ERA and .226 opponent batting average.
And as far as Andrew McCutchen goes, he's only biding his time in hitting .300 again before he tastes October baseball for the first time. Will he choke under the unfamiliar pressure? Or will he become a star in a win-starved city?
What both teams are showing at the midpoint of the 2013 seasons is that they are both ready to establish themselves as among the league's best. They are facing different challenges though.
Oakland is once again facing an identity problem. Their no-name rosters have proven they can win in the regular season, they just need to break through past the early days of the playoffs.
The Pirates, although it seems like their time has come, still has a lot left to prove before anybody starts to bet serious money on a Pittsburgh championship trip.
Long story short, the Athletics have what it takes to win 90+ games in 2013 and take on the best in late October. The Pirates still have to prove they can make the playoffs, and that makes it very hard to pick them in this What If World Series matchup.