The A's finally got over the proverbial hump last season and dethroned the Houston Astros as AL West champs.
Oakland was humbled when Houston returned the favor by winning the AL Division Series in four games.
But the A's, ever confident in their abilities, believed they were still the team to beat the West entering the 2021 season. Star third baseman Matt Chapman even said prior to Opening Day that this was the best roster the A's have had since he made his MLB debut in 2017. That's up for debate, considering Oakland lost Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks in free agency on the winter and replaced them with Elvis Andrus and Trevor Rosenthal.
The Astros, motivated to reclaim their crown, poured a cold bucket of water on the A's in the first series of the 2021 season.
Constantly serenaded by boos during the entire four-game series, the Astros blocked out all the noise and sent a loud message to the A's and their fans with a dominant four-game sweep in which Houston outscored Oakland 35-9. The Astros sealed the sweep with a 9-2 win on Sunday.
"Look, we don't feel good about it," A's manager Bob Melvin said on a video conference call after the game. "It's a little bit embarrassing. We played really poorly and they played great and we ended up losing four games. But I think, in perspective, we have to look at it as just four games in 162. We need to play with a little more urgency, we obviously have to play better and we've got another tough team coming in and then we go [to Houston]. So we've got to turn things around and it's not just going to happen for us. We have to play better baseball and this was not good baseball for us."
The good news about a full-length MLB season is that the A's have 158 more games to figure things out. In recent years, Melvin's teams have been notorious for going on second-half runs, so an 0-4 start absolutely doesn't mean their season is in trouble.
The bad news for the A's is that the reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers (3-1) come to Oakland for a three-game series beginning Monday. LA will throw Dustin May, Clayton Kershaw and 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer at the A's this week. Then the A's have to travel to Houston for three more games with the Astros.
That's a brutal 10-game stretch to open the season. While Melvin isn't happy with how the A's played this weekend, he still was able to put things in perspective.
"Last year, I think we swept [the Astros] the first series that we played them," Melvin said. "As the season went along, they got better and they beat us in the end, so we can't look at these four games as they team that we are. We're a much better team than that, so we have to do the best we can to put it in the rearview mirror."
Not much went right for the A's and Melvin believes everyone should share in the blame.
"Pretty much the way the whole series went, we had trouble getting them out and that was across the board," Melvin said. "We're all involved in this four-game loss. Everybody. Myself, the coaching staff, the players. It was a hard series for everybody."
All facets of the A's need to get going. They hit one homer in the four-game series, off the bat of Chad Pinder, who sprained his left knee Sunday and will get an MRI on Monday. Chapman and Andrus each only had one hit. The pitching staff as a whole has an 8.33 ERA. In addition to Pinder, Sean Murphy, Ramon Laureano and Stephen Piscotty all are banged up.
The A's absolutely are better than what they showed in the four losses to the Astros. As they still the best team in the AL West? That's still to be determined, but they certainly didn't look like it in the first four games of the season.
Oakland has dug a decent-sized hole to climb out of, and the next six games don't make that task easier. But if the A's can survive this gauntlet, they have an easy stretch with two games against the Arizona Diamondbacks and four with the Detroit Tigers awaiting them.
This isn't how the A's expected to start the 2021 season, but time and talent are on their side.