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.
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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.”
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.”