The A’s have made the MLB playoffs five times in the last 10 years. That number would drop significantly if qualification was based on early results. The notoriously slow-starters would have missed the postseason three more times if they were only judged by a 60-game cut-off date.
That could be bad news for the A’s entering a 2020 season where they should be World Series contenders under normal circumstances. This campaign will be anything but that, with limited time to get the campaign in due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Major League Baseball and its players union still don’t have an agreement to play the season, with lots of public haggling and animosity between the sides. Owners voted to implement a season lasting 60 games, so we used that number to see how the A’s would fare under new conditions.
They typically take some time to get the engine revved, stuck in first gear for initial portions of the season. They finished 30-30 through 60 games in 2019 and 31-29 in 2018, campaigns where the A’s surged at the end and totaled an impressive 97 wins.
They won’t have time to finish strong in 2020.
That would put a greater emphasis on the opening contests. The A’s have only finished above .500 in the season’s first month-plus four times in the last 10 seasons, and they haven’t done so in any year since 2014.
That season bucked a trend, with a fast start and a sluggish home stretch after the Yoenis Cespedes trade.
There is something, however, that could help the A’s and their typically slow starts. Baseball has toyed with expanding its playoff field in 2020, possibly 14 teams contending for the World Series crown. That's ultimately uncertain at this stage, and it could well end up as the normal 10-team format.
An expanded field would give the A’s more cushion than they’re used to. That would mitigate a potentially slow start and help them sneak into the postseason.
While the A’s would’ve missed the postseason three times out of five actual playoff berths, they would’ve qualified for a 14-team playoff bracket four times. They would’ve been a non-qualifier in 2012 after going 26-34 through 60 games, but the A’s would’ve been good enough to get in during the other four campaigns.
They would’ve won the AL West in 2013 and 2014, with the Nos. 3 and 1 seed, respectively. They would’ve just snuck in in 2018 and 2019, standing as the American League’s seventh and final playoff team in those seasons. That would pit the A’s against the AL’s top team, without home-field advantage, in that scenario. That’s not ideal for a talented crew that ranks high among baseball’s best.
It seems possible, however, that there will be no exapanded playoffs. If that's the case, even the last two dominant A's iterations would not qualify for the playoffs.
The A’s are well built and deep enough to withstand a few slow starts from a slumping hitter or two. They can get offense from all nine spots in the lineup, which features players who have generally solid on-base percentages. The A’s are also an excellent defensive team with a deep rotation, elements that will keep a team competitive even if the offense isn’t there.
The A’s have high expectations they hope still can be realized under unique circumstances, where they have a real shot to win the team’s 10th World Series trophy.