A's shine light on bright future after sting of AL Wild Card Game loss

A's shine light on bright future after sting of AL Wild Card Game loss

NEW YORK — It's never easy to find reasons for optimism in the immediate aftermath of a crushing defeat.

But based on what the A's achieved this season and the abundance of young talent in the organization, it's safe to say this is only the beginning.

“These guys are going to be back in the playoffs,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said without hesitation. “There are some weapons here in the minor leagues that are pretty serious, and that's not counting the younger players already up here. I foresee this team being pretty good the next three, four, five years, for sure.

"There were a lot of special things that happened. I don't think you can take that away just because we had a bad night in a one-game playoff.”

The A's surpassed all expectations in 2018. Coming off three consecutive last-place finishes in the AL West and projected to lose close to 90 games, Oakland instead won 97, finishing with the fourth-best record in all of baseball.

“We feel like with the group we have here together, we're going to get better each and every year," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "It's disappointing right now but (I told them) to keep their heads up.”

Matt Chapman is 25 years old and already one of the best third basemen in the game. First baseman Matt Olson is just 24. Rookies Ramon Laureano, Nick Martini, Lou Trivino and J.B. Wendelken all proved they can be difference-makers at the major league level. And that doesn't even include Oakland's two top pitching prospects, Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk, both of whom hope to make an impact next season.

“Coming into the season where nobody expected us to do anything, we should be proud of what we achieved,” Chapman said. “I'm proud of my teammates and proud to be on this team, and I think this is just the beginning for us.”

Blake Treinen had a night to forgot when the closer came in early during the sixth inning. The A's closer finished the regular season with the lowest ERA in MLB history at 0.78, but he allowed three earned runs in two innings on a two-run triple and deep fly from Giancarlo Stanton.

Still, Treinen couldn't help but be positive.

“I think there's a lot to look back on and be excited about,” Treinen said. “If you told us at the beginning of the year that we'd have 97 wins, about five guys with career years, and an opportunity to be in a Wild Card Game against a team with 100 wins, I think we'd all take that.”

The heavy-hitting A's scored just two runs, both off Khris Davis' two-run poke over the right field fence. Davis already is looking forward to 2019.

“I think we took a step forward,” the MLB home run leader said. “I'm excited for next year.”

Wednesday's wild card loss will sting for a while, and it should. The A's fully believed they could beat the Yankees. But when the pain wears off, Oakland can turn its attention to a bright future.

“I told them all in all it was a great season and I was proud of them,” Melvin said. “Hopefully this is just the start for us.”

A's fans confident in team, Mike Fiers heading into 2020 MLB season

A's fans confident in team, Mike Fiers heading into 2020 MLB season

OAKLAND -- It didn’t take long for the Q&A sessions at the A’s annual Fan Fest on Saturday to be swarmed with questions about “cheating” and “the Astros situation.” 

Yet a sense of excitement was in the air among the 32,000 green and gold faithful at Jack London Square. Typically, I would say “hope,” but A’s manager Bob Melvin said it was a season he looks forward to and there isn’t much of a message he wanted to send to his team.

They're ready.

And so are the fans. 

A young fan clutched her A’s teddy bear tightly to herself after A’s shortstop Marcus Semien took a sharpie to it. It was officially a collector’s item. 

She immediately gleamed with pride and appeared to barely catch her breath.

The long line was worth the wait.

When the topic of Mike Fiers came up, fans expressed support for the veteran pitcher, who was the main source in MLB's investigation into the Astros.

"We're behind Mike 150 percent," Fleetwood, long-time A's fan, told NBC Sports California. "We told him that, as they were marching in, 'We're behind you.'" 

"Mike is the hero, we love him for it," he added.

The combination of a strong roster on paper and support for Fiers was the theme of the day. 

"We just want to see good baseball, we want to see a competitive team -- want to see players signed, we want to be spoiled with these players just as the other teams are," Fleetwood said.

And Fleetwood's future outlook for the team? It was a deadpan look into the camera during an additional interview saying that the A's would indeed be the World Series champions next season.

Fans are looking forward to the young pitching arms and there is always a mention of “that Matt Chapman guy.” 

Watching fans list the strong things the team possesses heading into the season left them in better spirits than previous seasons. 

"The over is 89 and a half," Michael Gilson of Lafayette, Calif. said. "I would bet the over -- there's no reason for them to be less than where they were last year."

[RELATED: Sportsbook predicts 89.5 wins for A's in 2020]

Time and time again, Las Vegas has come up short in what this team can do.

"I think they've got the luxury of plenty this year," Gilson said.

Looking around, it appeared a weight had been lifted off the shoulders of Oakland fans. They have confidence in the team that looks strong on paper. The confidence that you'll be able to hear in drum and cheer form.

Why A's players don't mind trade-offs with extended protective netting


Why A's players don't mind trade-offs with extended protective netting

OAKLAND -- Back in December, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred declared that all 30 ballparks will extend their existing protective netting in advance of the 2020 season.
The movement has its reservations among fans but seems universally supported among players. Even in Oakland, where ample foul ground already buys added insurance.
“It will be tougher to interact with the fans, maybe to throw a ball to them,” A's shortstop Marcus Semien said Friday at the team's media day. “I love throwing a baseball to a kid. But, at least they will be safe.”

An NBC News investigation last year found at least 808 reports of fan injuries from baseballs from 2012 through 2019. The total was "based on lawsuits, news reports, social media postings and information from the contractors that provide first aid stations at MLB stadiums."
On May 29 in Houston, Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. lined a foul ball that struck a two-year-old girl in the head. Earlier this month, an attorney representing her family told the Houston Chronicle that the girl suffered a permanent brain injury, remains subject to seizures and might need to stay on medication for the rest of her life.
“It sucks, and I don’t want to see it anymore,” third baseman Matt Chapman said. “I’ve seen fans looking at their phones, not paying attention. I’ve seen people holding babies and not paying attention.”
Chapman understands the inconvenience but predicts eventual workarounds to make sure fans get their access, yet remain protected in critical situations. 

“I don’t understand why fan safety would be a bad thing,” he said.
In an era where exit velocities are measured with extreme precision, it’s scary to know that a baseball traveling 100 miles per hour could be headed straight towards someone who might not be able to protect themselves.

Even if they are paying attention to every pitch.
“We hit the ball so hard,” Semien said. “And sometimes we’re a little early. Or late. And now that they are up by the dugouts, you just say, 'Thank you the nets are there because that could have been bad.' ”
Even pitchers realize the dangers of line drives in foul territory. Starter Mike Fiers spends a lot of time in road dugouts, where he and other players often remark about how close young kids are sitting to the action.
“They’re in a bad spot,” Fiers said. “I feel like a lot of people don’t know that. It’s tough when those foul balls go in because everyone always watches and hopes nobody gets hit.”

[RELATED: A's teammates 'respect' Fiers for outing Astros' scandal]
As if there weren’t already enough thoughts running through the typical MLB hitter's mind, the concept of additional netting should at least take risk out of the equation. 
“No one wants to be that guy who hits a ball in the stands and hits somebody,” A's manager Bob Melvin said. “Our fans are baseball’s lifeline. You have younger kids in there. It’s a nightmare to think about. I think all players are in favor of that.”