The Oakland Athletics are in New York today for some top-level exorcism, from a post-Bash Brothers playoff history whose coat of arms is a look of shock on a field of recrimination and tears.
At least that’s the narrative the customer base will take in Wednesday night's American League Wild Card Game against the Yankees. The actual players know none of it, because any player on that 2014 A's team that spit the bit in Kansas City is somewhere else now. This, like most history older than three years, essentially is a civilian clothes memory.
But it very definitely exists, and even though a 97-win season that nobody saw coming can cure a lot of historical ills, the A’s have picked a very odd time to be this good this way.
Don’t get us wrong -- winning 97 games never is a bad idea, and hitting a ton of homers and catching anything a ballpark can hold is a dandy idea in any era. The A’s have done themselves proud.
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But the worrisome part is they're still fourth in a field of five, reputation-wise, and might have the worst starting pitching of any team in playoff history. By definition of having to bullpen their way through the Yankees just to get to the Boston Red Sox, the A’s are the white-knuckle green-and-gold.
Not knowing if Liam Hendriks will be up to the task, even though that task is only one inning in duration, is a bit of a worry. Being unsure of who the second pitcher will be is even more so, since Daniel Mengden is in Arizona and Mike Fiers isn't on the 25-man roster for this game. And a bullpen designed for this game entirely by events on the ground is the kind of improvisation no manager enjoys, no front-office person finds comforting and that no fan cannot second-guess until the cows come home, conquer the barn and overthrow the farmer.
This is baseball as told through Edvard Munch’s famous painting, “The Scream Of Nature,” and there isn’t an inning played at Yankee Stadium that won’t torture the A’s and their growing bandwagon.
Put another way, you are not meant to enjoy this. The best you can hope for is a sigh of relief when it’s over -- either that, or a shrug of resignation and a “Well, what are you going to do? They had no starting pitching.”
This isn't about the weight of history, though, or the Yankees’ championship pedigree, or the stylistic differences between managers Bob Melvin and Aaron Boone, or any of the other arcane methods used for divining the future even badly.
This is the frightening part of revolutionary baseball -- its sheer formlessness. What the A’s are doing on this stage is unprecedented in that, while teams have bullpenned playoff games before out of in-game necessity, no team has ever begun a game with such a strategy. Too many things are left to chance this way, and you might rest assured this isn't how the A’s would have it, either. They’d want to start with Luis Severino (the Yankees' announced starter after some needless hemming and hawing by Boone), or Justin Verlander, or Corey Kluber or Chris Sale -- any established lights-out starter would do. Everyone would want that -- even Bolsheviks like Brian Kenny.
Instead, the Oakland pitching staff works from the back -- Blake Treinen, preceded by anyone and everyone. Even in baseball, in which nothing truly is new, this is new, and made especially weird because it's for a 97-win team.
And that, ultimately, is the layered dichotomy of the A’s. They are a wild card team opening on the road because this is one of the rare seasons in baseball history with three 100-game winners. They are the fourth-best team in baseball by all useful metrics, which means they will be underdogs until/unless they get to the World Series, yet how can they get to the World Series with this starting pitching?
And the answer is, nobody has the slightest idea. They won 97 games entirely on merit because their strengths are considerable, but their one weakness sits atop everything like cloud cover predicting a storm.
So enjoy tonight's game. Go on, we dare you.
Watch A’s playoff coverage on NBC Sports Bay Area/California
4:30 p.m.: A’s Pre-Game Show on NBC Sports California
8 p.m.: A’s Post-Game Show on NBC Sports California
10 p.m.: The Happy Hour on NBC Sports Bay Area