A's 2020 World Series chances will be defined by five vital questions

A's 2020 World Series chances will be defined by five vital questions

The A’s will embark on their most unique season in franchise history Friday night.

While MLB navigates a pandemic, the A's will attempt to enter a World Series conversation that isn’t far-fetched, by any means.

Here are five questions that will affect their overall chances in 2020:

1. Did the slow offense in exhibition games mean anything?

Every A’s player will tell you how critical the start to their season is. For perspective, their first home series of four games against the Los Angeles Angels alone … equates to a whopping TEN percent of the entire schedule.

During their two exhibition games this week, the A's mustered up just four runs on six hits against the unassuming Giants. If there is one thing that could hinder Oakland out of the gates, it would be the lack of bats. Simultaneously, it also seems foolish to validate any takeaways from dual dress-rehearsals, which mostly were intended to simulate “new normals” of MLB.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

2. How adaptable can the A’s be?

A traditional season brings enough challenges with injuries, but this year every club has the priority concern of illness. Even for precautionary reasons, the A's could find themselves having to make last-minute decisions on how to proceed with their roster and lineups.

Fortunately for manager Bob Melvin, there’s no shortage of versatility with position players like Chad Pinder, Tony Kemp, and Mark Canha who could each find time in the outfield, or infield. Also, they’re (literally) in fine hands when it comes to pitching -- Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden already have the ability to fill spots in the rotation or eventually serve important roles in relief.  

3. Where will MLB players be, mentally, approaching September?

Let’s not undermine the personal lives of athletes. Many of the A’s will be living separate from their families during the next few months, as the ultimate safety precaution. For new fathers like Canha, the distance already has proven to be a heavy weight on the heart, in addition to the daily stress of avoiding COVID-19, and oh yeah, trying to be really good at baseball.

By the end of August, we should have a great depiction of how sustainable an entire MLB season is. Not just for the logistics, but also the toll it’s taking on players.

4. How will the pitching balance play out?

Usually by late July, a few pitchers begin to experience the fatigue phenomenon known as “dead arm.” This year, the challenge for starters might not be over-use, but the inability to get stretched deep into games. The A's do have 10 relievers as part of the 30-man roster to begin the season.

How early will we see Melvin make his first calls to the bullpen? Conversely, if starters are regularly able to flirt with the 80-pitch mark in July, how will the entire bullpen stay fresh and get their proper work? Preferably the A’s would like to lean on starters much as possible, knowing their rotation is one of the best built in a long while.

[RELATED: Making case for A's to win World Series]

5. Which player will have a career season?

The premise of 60 games in 66 days does lend itself to one player starting hot, and staying that way start to finish. Having a season that stands out above any other. The A’s have multiple candidates in that category, and the top players to watch include: Ramon Laureano, Matt Olson, and Khris Davis.

But there also could be other pleasant surprises. Conversely, slumps won’t be as tolerable for contending teams. Even star players are put into the dilemma where time is of the essence, and there might not be the same opportunity of patience to work out of a rut, as usual.

A's coach Ryan Christenson says apparent Nazi salute was unintentional

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A's coach Ryan Christenson says apparent Nazi salute was unintentional

A's bench coach Ryan Christenson said he "unintentionally" gave a Nazi salute during Oakland's celebratory handshake line after Thursday's win over the Texas Rangers.

"I made a mistake and will not deny it," Christenson said in a statement released by the team. "Today in the dugout I greeted players with a gesture that was offensive. In the world today of [COVID-19] I adapted our elbow bump, which we do after wins, to create some distance with the players. My gesture unintentionally resulted in a racist and horrible salute that I do not believe in. What I did is unacceptable, and I deeply apologize."

The NBC Sports California broadcast showed Christenson raising his right arm with his palm facing down while A's closer Liam Hendriks approached.  Hendriks quickly grabbed Christenson's arm, bending it at the elbow for the coach's "elbow bump" celebration, which he said is done due to MLB's coronavirus safety protocols. Christenson then turned around and repeated the initial gesture.

"No, no straight arm, you have to bend your elbow," Christenson said Hendriks told him in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, referring to the coach's usual celebration.

"Oh, I see what you mean, oh no, it's like 'Heil Hitler,' " Christenson said after he turned, in his and Hendriks' recounting to Slusser.

The salute, typically followed by exclamations of "Heil Hitler" or "Sieg Heil," was a compulsory tribute to Adolf Hitler within the Nazi Party and, later, all of Germany under the Nazis' rule from 1933 through 1945. Still used by neo-Nazis and white supremacists long after the end of World War II, the Anti-Defamation League says the salute is "the most common white supremacist hand sign in the world."

The A's said in a statement that they were "deeply sorry this happened on our playing field."

"We do not support or condone this gesture, or the racist sentiment behind it," the A's said in a statement. "This is incredibly offensive, especially in these times when we as a [club] and many others are working to expose and address racial inequities in our country."

Before the A's released the pair of statements, Christenson told Slusser that he "wasn't doing that intentionally" and that "I just blacked out, my mind wasn't there and I spaced out."

"I'm cringing inside picturing myself," Christenson told Slusser. "Of course I'm sorry for it -- it's like standing there with my middle finger up. Anyone should know better."

A's Khris Davis reveals adjustment that led to production at plate

A's Khris Davis reveals adjustment that led to production at plate

Whatever he’s doing appears to be working.

Khris Davis proved his recent adjustment at the plate is paying dividends, as he tallied his second multi-hit game of the season during the A’s 6-4 sweep over the Texas Rangers on Thursday.

Davis said the coaching staff and teammates are to thank for the recent surge -- particularly hitting coach Darren Bush, who first suggested an alteration with Davis' hands.

“Yeah, I just put my hands back and further up a little and it’s been helping me be more accurate to the ball,” Davis said after the game. “I’m finding less swings and misses and a little better contact.”

“It’s all pretty comfortable right away, usually when you have to make an adjustment and you feel it click, you just run with that and don’t look back so it’s brought some comfort in the box so I’m going to keep working with it,” Davis said.

Davis went 2-for-3 on Thursday, driving in two runs in the 4th inning to break the game open.

“I think it’s a positioning thing, just having them further back -- less room to go,” he added. “They’re just already ready to fire and it’s been working.”

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Davis wants to be the everyday designated hitter, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case with his lack of production. Mark Canha has been taking over the DH spot in some of the outings, but it’s something Davis is ready to earn back.

“It is what it is,” Davis said. “And, I just have to capitalize on my opportunities that I do get. It’s s--tty, but I’ve been here before, I’ve lost my job before a couple times and I’ve had to battle back and this is nothing new to me.”

It turns out the oblique injury Davis suffered last season when he ran into the wall in May ended up leaving a bigger mark than just on his skin. 

"I think when I got hurt, I had been getting set up in a different way,” Davis said. “My body just wasn’t adjusting to that injury and just when I put my hands further back it just freed things up.”

[RELATED: Luzardo's outing shows A's have something special]

Oh, and his teammates are helping him a lot too.  

“A lot of good teammates, they know what it’s like to go through a struggle and they just kept reminding me that I could hit all around, I don’t have to hit a home run or whatever, but they constantly say that I’m a good hitter, I’m [not just] a power hitter.”