ARLINGTON, Texas — Morale understandably could be rock-bottom for a last-place club by the time game 162 rolls around.
Contrast that with the energy and vibe in the A’s clubhouse following a 5-2 victory over the Rangers that closed out the 2017 season. Though the A’s finished last in the American League West for the third consecutive season, there’s a feeling that better times might finally be on the horizon for 2018.
Oakland (75-87) finished the season with a flourish, going 17-7 over the final 24 games. Over the final 79 games starting July 4, or roughly the entire second half of the regular season, the A’s played better than .500 ball at 40-39.
Will it mean anything by the time Opening Day 2018 rolls around? Manager Bob Melvin thinks it should.
“I think we’ve accomplished enough to have a good feeling going into next year,” he said. “I want guys, when they come to spring training next year, to be in a different mindset than we’ve been. We want to hit the ground running next spring. The timeliness of getting some of those younger guys here, the success they’ve had, would lend to a different atmosphere for us next spring and certainly some different expectations as a group.”
One of those young guys, starter Daniel Mengden, was late to the party. Having been hampered by a fractured foot, and later a strained oblique, Mengden was recalled from the minors Sept. 5 and proceeded to go 3-1 with a 1.54 ERA over five starts to close the season.
That included a sterling seven-inning effort Sunday, when he held Texas to four hits and no runs, striking out eight. For a rotation that saw Sonny Gray depart via trade, Kendall Graveman suffer shoulder issues and Jharel Cotton and other young starters endure struggles, Mengden’s performance was a late-season revelation.
“That’s the best work we’ve seen from him,” Melvin said. “And to come out of the pack, so to speak, like he did and perform as well as he did, at a time we were struggling a little bit in our rotation … He put himself right back up there in the pecking order going into next season. I don’t have enough good things to say about him.”
Mengden got ahead of hitters with his fastball, and that helped make his changeup and slider more effective.
“It’s a huge amount of confidence for me, for our team. The last month we played really well,” he said. “It boosts the confidence a lot, coming in here doing what I did. I’m looking forward to next year.”
Khris Davis hit his 43rd homer to establish a new career high. But it’s another veteran who constitutes the first order of business for Oakland this offseason.
The A’s hold a $6 million option on second baseman Jed Lowrie with a $1 million buyout. They're thinking strongly about bringing Lowrie back after a productive — and healthy — season that included an Oakland-record 49 doubles and solid defense.
“This is a young team that has a lot of talent,” Lowrie said. “The option is completely out of my control, but I like playing with these guys.”
Expect the A’s to look to bolster the pitching staff, both the rotation and bullpen, over the winter, to complement a promising core of position players that Melvin hopes will continue to develop and provide the foundation for a rise up the standings.
“I think it brings a little hope for next year,” Davis said of the A’s strong finish. “Hopefully we can remember this in the winter and have some dog piles next year.”