The Oakland Athletics woke up today with three games remaining in the 2019 season and a magic number of one in order to secure a postseason berth. While some analysts find it amazing that the team is as good as they are, the real shock should be in how close it is in the end.
In the early part of any baseball season, every loss is met with such hot takes as, “it’s a marathon and not a sprint,” or, “this is why they play 162.” And while it is true that the teams all play 162 games, the fact of the matter is that a baseball season is a relentless, full sprint, marathon.
The team’s last game as a sub .500 team was on May 20 in the midst of an 11 game winning streak. At the time many fans brushed it off as a slow start and excused the losses because the team was notorious for incredible second-half runs. Unfortunately for those fans, though, those games still counted towards Oakland’s current postseason run.
Then there was the record against the division rival Houston Astros. The A’s opened the season 2-9 against the first place team and closed the season at a 6-2 win record since August 15. Had the team managed to go 6-5 during that first half they’d be 12-7 (.631), have a 100-59 win record, be tied for first in the division, and have clinched a postseason berth as well as home field for the Wild Card already.
Then there are the blown saves. The team’s starting pitching has surprised baseball analysts and fans alike with a tremendous ability to keep teams beatable. Mike Fiers, Brett Anderson, Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, Homer Bailey, Daniel Mengden, and Tanner Roark have all started nine or more games and they all have winning records. Going into the season, it was widely expected that the starting rotation would be a team weakness but that has proven to simply not be true.
Where there has been a weakness is the bullpen which has had a tremendous ability to keep the A’s beatable. Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino will end the season with negative WAR and the staff ranks 9th in saves despite having the third most save opportunities. With 30 blown saves (tied with Boston for first), the Athletics have been in position to win an incredible number of games this season. Had they simply cut that number in half — you can do the math.
The team has consistently overcome these shortcomings with elite defense (Matt Chapman and Matt Olson seem like locks for Gold Glove repeats), timely hitting, and the constant threat of the long ball. The team is good. Very good. Probably the best team in baseball since their “slow start” and if they can secure (their odds are currently 99.8%) a postseason berth and clear the one-game Wild Card, there’s no telling what this team can do.
But to all the people who were biting their nails and screaming at their televisions when the A’s were down a run in the top of the ninth against a sub .500 team missing its two biggest stars, agonizing over the team’s inability to lock down a berth, remember that feeling next year when the team gets off to a “slow start” and when you use the old marathon adage. Every game counts and as fantastic as this season has been, it could have been a total blowout.
What the team has shown since August is that they may be the most dangerous team in the league. They have proven to New York and Houston that they are not going to roll over or be intimidated by expectations. Their early season record against the Astros is in stark contrast to their late season record and if they clear the Wild Card game, it is truly theirs for the taking.
Would it have been great for the team to have secured a division win? Yes. Was it possible? Absolutely. Is the Wild Card game still going to be the most stressful three hours of your October? No doubt. Are they in a better position to go the distance than they were in any other postseason since 2012? All signs point to yes.
Especially since that first month didn’t count.
Next Wednesday could usher in a historic postseason run for the team everyone dismisses and the fans deserve to see this team go the distance and next season, the fans deserve to see a team play at September quality in April because every game counted and it’s about time Houston spent some time in second place.
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