Losing 15-0 and then winning 21-7 in back-to-back nights isn’t exactly consistent. But with that to the side, the A’s have been a model of consistency for the bulk of the 2019 regular season, and it could power them to — and through — the American League Wild Card Game.
The A’s went into this season with optimism, despite losing some prominent members of their 97-win 2018 campaign such as Jed Lowrie, Jonathan Lucroy, and Trevor Cahill, among others. They began the year stagnant. Their starting pitching was slumping, their bats were sagging, and the A’s, as a whole, were playing at a subpar level. But then they went on a remarkable 11-game winning streak, improving their record to 30-25. Since that surge, manager Bob Melvin‘s ballclub has catapulted into playoff contention.
They went into the All-Star break 51-41 and began the second half winning seven of their first eight games; it has been smooth sailing from there on out. They’ve lost just three series since the All-Star break, are 86-60, and own the second AL Wild Card seeding. All aspects of their roster are contributing at a high level.
The A’s identity has become their high-octane offense, which features the likes of Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Mark Canha, Ramon Laureano, and Marcus Semien.
Chapman sports an underwhelming .253 batting average, but he has totaled 32 home runs and 81 RBIs and is one of the best defensive third basemen in Major League Baseball; Olson has been a force to be reckoned with since recovering from a hand injury, as he has totaled 31 home runs and 79 RBIs while sporting a team-best .911 OPS; Canha has been the glue of the A’s offense, totaling 23 home runs and sporting a .905 OPS; Laureano is hitting .282 and has totaled 21 home runs in his first season starting on a consistent basis; Semien has totaled a career-high 28 home runs and 81 RBIs; veterans Khris Davis and Stephen Piscotty have been RBI machines in years past, albeit they’re struggling at the plate this season.
Meanwhile, their starting rotation — which was a question mark going into this season — has been a reliable unit. Outside of surrendering five home runs against the Houston Astros on September 9, Mike Fiers has been a steady force and established himself as the A’s ace. He’s finding success with his four seamer and sinker, has been efficient, is escaping trouble, and, before getting rocked on Monday night, owned a 3.51 ERA.
Chris Bassitt has been one of the most intriguing developments on the A’s roster in his first full season as a permanent starter. In 24 starts, the right-hander has recorded a 3.64 ERA, thrown a savvy sinker, and given the Swingin’ A’s a fighting chance to win when he takes the hill.
After coming over in a midseason trade with the Cincinnati Reds, veteran Tanner Roark has been a steady and efficient force, recording a 3.40 ERA in seven starts over 42.1 innings pitched. Left-hander Brett Anderson has been a starting fixture and held his own every fifth day.
While their bullpen has some relievers who have taken significant steps back this season such as Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino, the A’s still have several proven and/or budding relievers such as Liam Hendriks, Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit, and Joakim Soria.
This is a deep ballclub that has only improved.
Their bats have become more productive as the season progresses, their rotation has steadily improved, and they’ve experienced arms in their bullpen. The A’s Wild Card competitors, the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians, are difficult to get a gauge on.
Yes, the Rays pitching staff has put together a remarkable season in the face of injuries and several midseason trades. But they also have a lineup that struggles to provide consistent run support. The Rays also have some bizarre runs where they’ll have an impressive winning streak but then have a puzzling series against a non-playoff team.
The Indians have a starting rotation that has been rock solid, even though they’ve been without Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and, for most of the second half of the season, Carlos Carrasco. Meanwhile, star third baseman Jose Ramirez is going to miss the rest of the regular season and, if they reached such play, the first round of the playoffs due to a hand injury. The Indians have also played .500 ball over the last month.
The A’s haven’t embarked on a losing streak since the All-Star break and been a team that no one wants to face. They can hit their way back into games, usually have the chance to do as such, and have played well against some of the best teams in the AL; the A’s are 4-2 against the New York Yankees, 4-3 against the Minnesota Twins, 5-1 against the Indians, and 4-3 against the Rays.
They’re also predictable. There’s no definitive X factor to their success, or someone holding them back. Their offensive agenda, that being hitting the long ball and playing small ball when necessary, and versatile pitching staff, which features some proven starting pitchers as well as pitchers who can come out of the pen and throw multiple innings, isn’t going to change.
Do we know how the Rays pitching staff will perform in a one-game playoff, or if their offense can answer the call in crunch time? Do we know how the Indians will fare in October, which has been the organization’s kryptonite?
The A’s aren’t perfect, and they were eliminated by the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game last year, but they’ve gradually played their way into playoff contention. They’re the most steady of the three teams vying for the two Wild Card seedings and don’t appear to be done climbing the rope.
They don’t have the Yankees’ offensive firepower, the Astros starting pitching, or the Indians bullpen, but the A’s are a well-rounded club with no transparent weakness. Sticking to the game plan and playing their brand of baseball could get them in the AL Division Series for the first time since 2013.
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