The last time the Oakland A’s made it past the divisional series, third baseman Matt Chapman had yet to begin his high school career in Southern California. He was likely watching as the Detroit Tigers dismantled Oakland for a four-game sweep in 2006, eventually going on to lose in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
Since then, their crosstown rivals in San Francisco have won three World Series championships, their stadium has rapidly decayed, and the front office has moved on from just about every All-Star it has produced.
Now, with 29 games left, Oakland has a chance to solidify its place back among baseball’s elite franchises.
The A’s have all the makings of today’s baseball powers: young players who excel both at the plate and in the field, a pitching rotation of consistent starters, and an offense that has rivaled the most powerful in the league, despite playing in one of the most defense-oriented ballparks in the MLB.
Stephen Piscotty helped the team set a franchise record, becoming the 10th A’s player to hit 10 home runs in 2019. The A’s have one of the most balanced offenses in the game, and that’s largely without Khris Davis, who was responsible for 91 home runs over the 2017 and 2018 seasons but has just three since June 19 after opening the season with 10 in his first 17 games. Hopefully, the birth of Davis’ second child and a few days of paternity leave can break him out of his slump.
Many A’s fans have lamented the team’s decisions to consistently part with elite young talent in the past, including the recent trades of Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes. General manager Billy Beane cited the team’s need to rebuild in those instances, but without much playoff success to show for it, the deals look like major negatives in hindsight.
The A’s now feature a new trio of elite position players, each of whom has made a major impact on the team’s playoff pursuit. Third baseman Matt Chapman and shortstop Marcus Semien each occupy the top-five in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in the American League, while first baseman Matt Olson ranks 10th in the AL in at-bats per home run with 14.2. Olson missed the first 34 games after offseason hand surgery, but still leads all AL first basemen with 26 home runs on the season.
“He’s an MVP candidate, he really is,” manager Bob Melvin said of Marcus Semien, via Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Semien has attributed his breakout campaign to an offseason bat switch, but the shortstop has also been excellent with his glove, something that was far from true when he first made the switch to shortstop for Oakland in 2015.
The team is 27-15 since the All-Star break and doesn’t appear to have any ideations about slowing down. Over the past 30 days, the team has seen its Baseball-Reference Playoff Odds climb 39.5 percent, the second-largest jump in baseball behind the Cardinals.
Let’s examine that 30-day stint. In addition to facing each of the top three teams in the NL Central -- all of whom are in postseason contention -- the A’s also took on the two best records in the AL with the Astros and Yankees each making stops in Oakland. The A’s went 16-9 over that 30 day stretch, which includes today’s 9-8 victory over the Royals.
They notably took three out of four from the division-leading Astros but made the ultimate statement by sweeping the Yankees over three games. They outscored New York 17-7, and knocked around both Masahiro Tanka and a 17-game winner and the Yankees' ace in Domingo German.
The bright lights of Yankee Stadium afford the A’s an opportunity to show all of Major League Baseball that they are more than just a playoff contender, but in fact belong among the championship conversation with Houston, the LA Dodgers, and those dreaded Yankees.
Was the three-game sweep at the Coliseum a mirage, or can Oakland back up its recent success in baseball’s most historic venue?
Can the A's avenge a brutal loss from the 2018 AL Wild Card game?
We’ll find out when Brett Anderson and the A’s toe the rubber Friday night, opposite Vallejo native C.C. Sabathia.