Editor's Note: this post is part of the Front Page Auditions Series
The Face of MLB contest, which ended in not unexpected chicanery by the league, is reflective of the A’s as a team. The quirky underdog, who pokes fun at the establishment, and has way too much fun. The kind of unadulterated fun that drives old rich men crazy. Even our uniforms are too loud. That’s what makes being an A’s fan so great. It’s a Bay Area trait, in fact. We make the world a bright, loud and fun place.
Unfortunately, MLB prefers a clean shaven face in outdated attire, like pinstripes. Does anybody think pinstripes are coming back in style? NO! Which brings me back to the Face of MLB contest: The A’s can make improbable run after improbable run, but baseball can’t stand the thought of them winning a title. The old guard, savagely protecting against math and new ways of thinking, would hate to see the most blatant users of numbers prove that the old ways are gone.
In the contest they could use robots to prevent the unthinkable from happening. A virtually unknown player from Oakland win the FACE of MLB? Makes Bud’s skin crawl just thinking about it. Sadly, there is some merit to the thinking that the numerically inclined Athletics won’t lay a finger on the commissioner’s trophy.
Consider this: Billy took over as GM of the A’s after the ’97 season. Since that time, the Athletics have reached the postseason seven times. They have advanced past the first round all of one time. The crazy thing is that, in each of the six series losses, the series has gone the entire five games. Just to close the loop, they swept the Twins in 2006 and then were swept by the Tigers in the ALCS. The question is "Why?"
The answer, in short, is a lack of a superstar. Whether it’s a superstar slugger or an absolute ace of a starter. Even the Derek Jeter flip to the plate was a result of the ‘Michael Jordan factor’. Giambi was called out because the Yankees, and Jeter, are loved by baseball and the A’s are not. This is not cause for some pity party amongst Oakland fans. As was stated earlier, this is the most fun fan base to be a part of. It’s simply a statement of fact.
A star pitcher gets a bigger strike zone and a start slugger gets a smaller one. This is the nature of sports. The Athletics have depth, and depth plays extremely well in the regular season. It just doesn’t play well in the postseason. The boys in green and gold can win a lot of regular season games because they don’t have many weaknesses. Being above average means you beat the average team. In October, there just aren’t many average teams left.
An entire season’s work can be derailed by Verlander getting that outside corner called in game five of the ALDS. In a regular season series you face an ace one time. In a postseason series you face him twice, and the number two up to two times. That’s a lot of elite pitching to overcome for an above average team. This doesn’t include the fact that each playoff team has an overpaid slugger. In the postseason runs are at a premium. If that overpriced team can squeak one over the fence, it usually means the difference in winning and losing.
For teams like the Athletics, and Rays for that matter, everything has to be clicking at once to make a run at the title. The good news is that this is the most likely group of Athletics to make just that run. When healthy, and not psyching themselves out, they actually can put together a few hits. The best thing about this team is that they work pitchers, and the count, extremely well.
Look. It’s far from impossible for Oakland to win a World Series, but it doesn’t look good. Depth doesn’t trump super stardom. They will have to get good pitching, good defense, and a lot more mature approaches at the plate all at the same time. The good news is that this group has the potential to tick all of those boxes. They have pitching depth, good hitting matchups, and another year of playoff experience under their belts. For the first time in a long time, the A’s fans can throw the regular season out the window and start nail biting in October.