Athletics

Making case for why loaded A's roster could win 2020 MLB World Series

Making case for why loaded A's roster could win 2020 MLB World Series

The A’s have won 194 games over the past two seasons.

That’s, you know, pretty good.

That number was split evenly over the past two seasons. A 97-win total would’ve won four of MLB's six divisions in 2018, two in 2019. The A’s don’t have a playoff banner to show for it.

The Astros, with their supreme talent and trash-can banging, have owned the A.L. West.

Oakland doesn't have a playoff win in that dominant span, either, with two losses coming in the wild card round.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

The A’s entered camp this spring believing this was the year to leap over past hurdles, to win the division and a playoff series, even possibly walking away with the franchise’s first championship since 1989.

This is the year they’ll do it. They’re deep and talented. They match up well with anyone. And in 2020, they’ll get hot in September and mow down the American League en route to a World Series title. That should be even easier in an expanded playoff field, agreed upon by MLB and the players union on Thursday afternoon. At the time of this publication, however, owners still had to ratify playoff expansion.

Leaving Mesa, Ariz. after baseball was shut down over the coronavirus pandemic, without a guarantee of return, constituted supreme disappointment for the organization. Being able to reassemble in July, even for a 60-game season, brought that optimism flooding back.

“I think we have the best team out of anyone,” outfielder Robbie Grossman said. “We can match up well. We have the depth to play with anyone in a long series or a short series. It’s going to be really exciting. What was so disappointing when we all left spring training, is that we knew the team we had, and we knew what kind of chance we had to get to the World Series and win the whole thing. That was the letdown in spring, but now we’re all back and everyone has that feeling [again] that this could be something special.”

Grossman’s instincts are spot on. The A’s have the pitching depth to compete with anyone, even with A.J. Puk out indefinitely due to shoulder inflammation and Jesus Luzardo’s path to the rotation delayed by a coronavirus quarantine. They have a deep bullpen -- thinned a bit by Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden joining the rotation -- with long relievers and solid late-inning options.

They’re one of baseball’s best defensive teams and, as we all know, they can flat out rake. The first six hitters in their lineup had at least 23 home runs last year. Their seventh, Stephen Piscotty, healthy, in great form and capable of hitting for power. They have depth in the outfield and in the infield as well.

The roster is stacked. Bob Melvin’s as good a manager as there is in baseball. There are streaky hitters and pitchers capable of putting together a dominant 60-game stretch. And, unlike most A’s seasons, there’s continuity and chemistry built from back-to-back 97-win seasons that should help them navigate a shortened season playing amidst a global pandemic.

“As long as we stay healthy and we keep following the protocols, we have a chance to get to the playoffs and make a push,” second baseman Tony Kemp said. “This team has been knocking on the door, and we have to care of each day at a time.”

[RELATED: A's 2020 MLB Opening Day roster: Seth Brown, Jordan Weems earn spots]

They have to avoid slow starts that have become characteristic, and start picking off things in front of them. The Astros are the main deterrent, with a division title needed to avoid the one-game playoffs that have plagued them over the past decade.

“We have gotten stuck in the Wild Card spot the last couple of years,” Mengden said. “We want to get out of that. We want to take the next step and we’re hungry. We’ve been the little stepbrother to the Astros the past couple years in the division. We have been knocking at the door the last couple of years, but we’ve never done it. I think that, now that we have the team we have and we know what we’re capable of, we believe we can take that next step. We wish we had the whole year to show our dominance, but we only have 60 games. It’s going to be a sprint for everyone. Inside out, we’re very confident as a team. We want to get out there and we want to win.”

Winning will be easier when Luzardo’s able to start again. It will be easier if Puk can return this year and make an impact. It will be easier if the major producers get hot and stay available. The A’s were a legitimate World Series contender over 162 games. That status should remain over 60.

Players here understand the importance of each game. They’re more than capable of doing enough to make an expanded playoff field and make a playoff push.

“We have one of the best defenses in baseball. Our hitters can get after it,” A’s starter Frankie Montas said. “I feel really confident about this team. I feel really confident about what we’re going to do in 2020. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to be great.”

A's coach Ryan Christenson says apparent Nazi salute was unintentional

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A's coach Ryan Christenson says apparent Nazi salute was unintentional

A's bench coach Ryan Christenson said he "unintentionally" gave a Nazi salute during Oakland's celebratory handshake line after Thursday's win over the Texas Rangers.

"I made a mistake and will not deny it," Christenson said in a statement released by the team. "Today in the dugout I greeted players with a gesture that was offensive. In the world today of [COVID-19] I adapted our elbow bump, which we do after wins, to create some distance with the players. My gesture unintentionally resulted in a racist and horrible salute that I do not believe in. What I did is unacceptable, and I deeply apologize."

The NBC Sports California broadcast showed Christenson raising his right arm with his palm facing down while A's closer Liam Hendriks approached.  Hendriks quickly grabbed Christenson's arm, bending it at the elbow for the coach's "elbow bump" celebration, which he said is done due to MLB's coronavirus safety protocols. Christenson then turned around and repeated the initial gesture.

"No, no straight arm, you have to bend your elbow," Christenson said Hendriks told him in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, referring to the coach's usual celebration.

"Oh, I see what you mean, oh no, it's like 'Heil Hitler,' " Christenson said after he turned, in his and Hendriks' recounting to Slusser.

The salute, typically followed by exclamations of "Heil Hitler" or "Sieg Heil," was a compulsory tribute to Adolf Hitler within the Nazi Party and, later, all of Germany under the Nazis' rule from 1933 through 1945. Still used by neo-Nazis and white supremacists long after the end of World War II, the Anti-Defamation League says the salute is "the most common white supremacist hand sign in the world."

The A's said in a statement that they were "deeply sorry this happened on our playing field."

"We do not support or condone this gesture, or the racist sentiment behind it," the A's said in a statement. "This is incredibly offensive, especially in these times when we as a [club] and many others are working to expose and address racial inequities in our country."

Before the A's released the pair of statements, Christenson told Slusser that he "wasn't doing that intentionally" and that "I just blacked out, my mind wasn't there and I spaced out."

"I'm cringing inside picturing myself," Christenson told Slusser. "Of course I'm sorry for it -- it's like standing there with my middle finger up. Anyone should know better."

A's Khris Davis reveals adjustment that led to production at plate

A's Khris Davis reveals adjustment that led to production at plate

Whatever he’s doing appears to be working.

Khris Davis proved his recent adjustment at the plate is paying dividends, as he tallied his second multi-hit game of the season during the A’s 6-4 sweep over the Texas Rangers on Thursday.

Davis said the coaching staff and teammates are to thank for the recent surge -- particularly hitting coach Darren Bush, who first suggested an alteration with Davis' hands.

“Yeah, I just put my hands back and further up a little and it’s been helping me be more accurate to the ball,” Davis said after the game. “I’m finding less swings and misses and a little better contact.”

“It’s all pretty comfortable right away, usually when you have to make an adjustment and you feel it click, you just run with that and don’t look back so it’s brought some comfort in the box so I’m going to keep working with it,” Davis said.

Davis went 2-for-3 on Thursday, driving in two runs in the 4th inning to break the game open.

“I think it’s a positioning thing, just having them further back -- less room to go,” he added. “They’re just already ready to fire and it’s been working.”

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Davis wants to be the everyday designated hitter, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case with his lack of production. Mark Canha has been taking over the DH spot in some of the outings, but it’s something Davis is ready to earn back.

“It is what it is,” Davis said. “And, I just have to capitalize on my opportunities that I do get. It’s s--tty, but I’ve been here before, I’ve lost my job before a couple times and I’ve had to battle back and this is nothing new to me.”

It turns out the oblique injury Davis suffered last season when he ran into the wall in May ended up leaving a bigger mark than just on his skin. 

"I think when I got hurt, I had been getting set up in a different way,” Davis said. “My body just wasn’t adjusting to that injury and just when I put my hands further back it just freed things up.”

[RELATED: Luzardo's outing shows A's have something special]

Oh, and his teammates are helping him a lot too.  

“A lot of good teammates, they know what it’s like to go through a struggle and they just kept reminding me that I could hit all around, I don’t have to hit a home run or whatever, but they constantly say that I’m a good hitter, I’m [not just] a power hitter.”