Athletics

A's biggest weakness will be on full MLB playoffs display vs. Yankees

A's biggest weakness will be on full MLB playoffs display vs. Yankees

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.

[RELATED: Three ways the A's can beat the Yankees]

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.

[RELATED: Blake Treinen could go three innings if needed vs. Yankees]

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

A's closer Liam Hendriks a finalist for AL Reliever of the Year award

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A's closer Liam Hendriks a finalist for AL Reliever of the Year award

A's closer Liam Hendriks is one of three finalists for the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award.

Hendriks is joined by Astros closer Roberto Osuna and Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman. The NL finalists are Josh Hader, Will Smith, and Kirby Yates.

Hendriks, 30, enjoyed a breakout season in 2019, recording a 1.80 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. The right-hander notched 124 strikeouts in 85 innings, an A's franchise record for relievers, compared to just 21 walks.

Hendriks took over closing duties from Blake Treinen in the middle of the season and finished with 25 saves, along with eight holds. His 124 punchouts led AL relief pitchers and his 1.80 ERA ranked second among AL relievers with at least 40 innings.

Osuna posted a 2.63 ERA and 0.88 WHIP, with 73 strikeouts in 65 innings. Chapman finished with a 2.21 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, striking out 85 in 57 innings.

[RELATED: Hendriks' energy a big part of A's success]

The voting will be conducted by a panel of eight all-time great relief pitchers: Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, John Franco, and Billy Wagner. Both the AL and NL awards will be presented on October 26, before Game 4 of the World Series.

Why A's should move on from Robbie Grossman in final arbitration year

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Why A's should move on from Robbie Grossman in final arbitration year

Editor's note: Over the next two weeks, we will examine 10 A's players who may or may not return to Oakland next season. For each player, we will provide reasons why the A's should bring him back and reasons why they should not, followed by a final determination.

Robbie Grossman, OF

Contract: Final year of arbitration (projected to get $3.3 million after earning $2 million this season)

Reasons to bring him back

Grossman provides versatility as a switch-hitter who can play all three outfield positions. He also has a strong record of reaching base, maintaining a .351 on-base percentage throughout his career.

The A's lineup is extremely right-handed heavy and they could certainly use another left-handed bat, particularly in the outfield. For $3.3 million, Grossman could add some value as a fourth or fifth outfielder.

Reasons to let him go

Grossman is coming off his worst season since 2015, hitting just .240/.334/.348 with six home runs and 38 RBI in 138 games. The 30-year-old has never provided much power, averaging just six homers per season in his career, with a high of 11 in 2016.

Oakland already has a crowded outfield with Ramón Laureano, Mark Canha, Stephen Piscotty, and Chad Pinder. The A's also have Dustin Fowler, Skye Bolt, and Seth Brown awaiting their opportunity in the minor leagues. Grossman isn't necessarily an upgrade over any of those names.

Final verdict

Due to their excellent outfield depth, the A's should move on without Grossman in 2020. That $3.3 million could be better spent in other areas -- relief pitching, as an example.

[RELATED: A's stay or go candidate for 2020 season: Josh Phegley]

If Grossman were to return, he would almost certainly be a bench player, and as we've noted, Oakland has plenty of other options to fill those fourth and fifth outfielder roles for far less than $3.3 million.