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 Matt Chapman is 'definitely frustrated' due to summer camp delays

A's Matt Chapman is 'definitely frustrated' due to summer camp delays

A’s position players have only been working out since Monday night, and they had to wait a while in the Oakland Coliseum parking lot just to get in the building for the first time. Delayed test results slowed things down and put the A’s a bit behind the competition in terms of time to prepare for the 2020 baseball season.

With only three weeks to prepare, every practice is precious. Manager Bob Melvin recalls being anxious over the wait.

Star third baseman Matt Chapman was definitely bothered by it, a sentiment he expressed in a Thursday video conference with the press.

“Definitely frustrated. I know this is uncharted territory for everyone, including MLB, front offices and players. You like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but it is frustrating from a player’s standpoint,” Chapman said. “This year, we feel like we have a really good ballclub and we have a chance to make a run. With the short season, anything can happen, so we know how valuable every single day is in training [camp].

“We were frustrated that we weren’t able to start on [July 1]. You look around the league and other teams are starting training on the 1st and guys were flying into cities days prior to that to get tested and make sure they were on top of it. We were disappointed that our organization took those extra few days and it ended up costing us even more than a few days when we were all ready to go on July 1. We’re on the field now and that’s all that matters. That’s all we can control. We want to move forward.”

While MLB has incurred some hiccups getting test results back in time for all workouts – the Giants, for example, had to temporarily pause proceedings over delayed test results -- Chapman didn’t absolve the A’s themselves.

“I think that it’s an honest mistake, but I think that had we been a little more proactive getting guys to town a little earlier like some other organizations did and gotten testing done a couple of days before [July 1]I think there wouldn’t have been a testing delay because we wouldn’t have even cut it that close.

“It’s not anybody’s fault per se but, when you wait until the last minute to do things, eventually things are going to catch up to you. We would’ve liked to have seen them be a little more proactive and get us out there early and be more well prepared for when things were given the green light to go.”

[RELATED: Marcus Semien embraces leadership role to keep A's safe amid coronavirus]

The A’s had a bit more prep work to do given the Oakland Coliseum’s constraints. The A’s were given the green light to start preparing Oakland Coliseum for a training camp until June 26 and the A’s equipment truck didn’t show up until June 29, per the San Francisco Chronicle. The facility needed some major work in terms of sanitation and preparation for a training camp. That included preparing the old Raiders locker room for the A's, an expanded dining facility and getting a weight room and intake facilities built under tents in the Oakland Coliseum parking lot. 

The A’s position players were tested Friday, per Bay Area News Group, in hopes of working out Sunday. Shipping delays, further complicated by the Fourth of July holiday, slowed things down and created some frustration.

“I know they were doing everything they can,” Chapman said. “I’m not trying to point the finger at anybody. It’s a weird situation and there’s a lot more things that go into a season this year than just getting guys to show up. I understand that, but from a team standpoint, we want to be given every single opportunity that the other teams were given knowing that everyday matters. We’re not just some other team. We think we’re one of the best teams in the big leagues and we want to have all the same opportunities and chances.”

[RELATED: A's Mark Canha ahead of the game when it comes to playing with a mask]

That’s important to Chapman and the A’s, who rightfully believe they have a shot to win the World Series. While they were delayed a bit, the third baseman knows taking advantage of the time afforded is the focus now.

“I don’t think that we’re going to dwell on that and let it affect us,” Chapman said. “We don’t have a choice. We have to continue to move forward with the season and we can’t let five or six days set us back even more. We have to take advantage of the time we have. I think our team is really good about not focusing on the negatives and focusing on the positives and try to make the most of the situation we’re in. We know it’s going to be a weird year no matter what. A lot of things got thrown at us in 2020. We just have to keep rolling with it.”

Ramón Laureano: Everything to know about A's do-it-all outfielder

Ramón Laureano: Everything to know about A's do-it-all outfielder

One thing that most of us reading this never will have to do is test Ramón Laureano's defense in center field. We can thank our lucky stars for that.

He also had possibly one of the best catches of the season in 2019 when -- well, just watch:

Shameless NBC Sports California plug aside, Laureano made that catch look easy, robbing Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto of a home run in the process.

So we know he can catch, he can throw, he can hit and do all of the typical baseball things. But what else?

The numbers

It has to be said we have yet to see the best of Laureano.

The 25-year-old slashed .288/.340/.521 last season which, was good for an .860 OPS.

Then there’s that arm. 

Laureano is properly nicknamed “Lazor” for the way he’s able to dart a ball from the deepest point of center field to anywhere there was a runner attempting to get an extra bag.

It was one night in August 2018 against the Los Angeles Angels when an “Oh my God!” was shouted by NBC Sports California’s Dallas Braden on the broadcast to see Laureano throw from center TO FIRST BASE for a double play. At 321 feet, it had been the longest throw to complete a double play in the Statcast era.


The background

Born in the Dominican Republic, Laureano was drafted out of Northeast Oklahoma A&M in the 16th round of the MLB draft by the Houston Astros in 2014, and was traded to the A’s in 2017 for minor leaguer Brandon Bailey. He made his A’s big league debut on Aug. 3, 2018, against Detroit. 

When Laureano was a younger prospect, he was compared to another Astros youngster Teoscar Hernandez in a scouting report by MLB Pipeline in 2017, but was said to be more of a “pure hitter" with less power potential. He was also called an “above average defender,” which we already knew.

If you’re a fantasy baseball player, he’s also listed as a top-30 outfielder heading into the 2020 season.

Now for the important stuff

Long-time friend of Laureano, Ricky Rivera, gave NBC Sports California some details about the star-studded outfielder’s off-the-field hobbies.

During quarantine, Laureano picked up golf and really wanted to perfect his craft at playing the video game MLB: The Show. He was playing the game a lot during quarantine to pass the time and had a group of eight or so guys get together and play. It sounds like it got quite competitive as well.

He’s also a dog lover, as Rivera described. Which at first, he didn’t think was a very random fact about Laureano, but we can all agree dog people are the best people.

[RELATED: A's hilariously sport Mike Fiers' facial hair facemask]

If you look anywhere for content written about Laureano, one notion that sticks out is his work ethic. In an interview with Rivera, who played with him at Northeast Oklahoma A&M, he said even though they were on the same team, Laureano would arrive at practice hours earlier. He was probably also the last one to leave.

“He’s always working out or talking baseball,” Rivera said.

It shows.