The surest bet for the A's to avoid the dreaded AL Wild Card Game would be for MLB to follow the lead of a pair of Little Leagues in Southern California.
The Long Beach Little League and East Fullerton Little League won't have any teams named after the Houston Astros in the wake of Houston's sign-stealing operation coming to light this offseason.
Neither Little League thinks the Astros are a good example for their kids.
"Parents are disgusted," Long Beach Little League president Steve Klaus told the Orange County Register. "They are disgusted with the Astros and their lack of ownership and accountability. We know there's more to this scandal. What's coming tomorrow? With the Astros, you've got premeditated cheating."
A's pitcher -- and former Astro -- Mike Fiers told The Athletic in November that his old club used a center-field camera to steal opposing catchers' signs in 2017, the year they won the World Series. Astros players or team employees would then bang a trash can to tell their teammates what pitches were coming.
MLB suspended then-Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch -- who were both fired soon after -- while fining the organization $5 million and docking first- and second-round draft picks in each of the next two years after an investigation confirmed that the Astros stole signs.
Rob Manfred thinks that was punishment enough, but those who called for players to be punished or the team to be stripped of their title probably wish the MLB commissioner had taken note of his counterparts in Southern California.
The A's won 97 games in 2018 and 2019 but finished no better than six games back of the Astros in the AL West. Oakland subsequently was eliminated in the AL Wild Card Game in both seasons, losing to the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, respectively.
Could the A's have gone farther without the Astros standing in the way of a division crown? We'll never know the real answer, but the A's in the Long Beach and East Fullerton Little Leagues have one less juggernaut to worry about, at least.