The Oakland Athletics are 73-48 entering Friday's series opener in Atlanta. However, they have hit an August swoon and are only 7-7 in the current month. You could phrase that differently -- 7-7 since trading Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester, for example. Or, 6-6 since losing Nick Punto to the disabled list. But one way or other, the team is treading water, and that's largely because they aren't hitting at all. They've scored 54 runs in those 14 games, and although an average of around four runs per game isn't terrible, it is worth noting that three of those victories were blowouts to the tunes of 8-3, 9-4, an 11-3; that's over half the runs in the last two weeks concentrated into three excessive wins. Overall, they're hitting more like a team who scores three runs per game.
I'm not here to convince you that you're wrong to miss Cespedes, or to explain how things will get better. I'm just going to show you that going through a slump is not only normal, it is inevitable in a six-month season. Let's take a look at some recent World Series winners, teams who reached the lofty goal we have set for our club. They weren't necessarily the best teams in the league just because they won the postseason tournament, but they were undeniably good teams who apparently had what it took to make it through October.
The 2013 Red Sox finished with the best record in baseball and scored by far the most runs. In May, they went just 15-15. In July, they scored only 4.5 runs per game, which was nearly a full run per game fewer than their season average. They still got back on track and went all the way.
The 2012 Giants went 12-12 in July and got outscored by nine runs during the month. They barely scored four runs per game during that stretch.
The 2011 Cardinals went 11-15 in June and 13-13 in July.
The 2010 Giants went 13-14 in June and 13-15 in August.
The 2009 Yankees started the year with a 12-10 April record and got outscored in the month. They went on to win 103 games.
The 2008 Phillies went 12-14 in June. The 2007 Red Sox went 13-14 in June. The 2006 Cardinals were barely .500 for the whole year and went 25-32 to finish the regular season.
What do they all have in common? Take a look at their September (and early Oct.) records, starting with the '13 Sox: 16-9, 20-10, 18-8, 19-10, 20-11, 17-8. That doesn't mean you have to be great in September to win; the '07 Sox were only 16-11, and the '06 Cards limped into the playoffs. Rather, it means that they all moved past their small-sample failures and showed their true talent over the long-haul (or, in the case of the '06 Cards, they waited until October to get hot).
My point here is not to compare the A's to these other teams. They were each unique squads with their own strengths and weaknesses. The point is that each of those totally different teams, for as good as they were and as successful as they turned out to be, went through their own rough patches. They all experienced a slump where they couldn't hit, or couldn't pitch, or couldn't hold a lead in the late innings, or something. And they all got over it and started playing well again, because a great team is unlikely to stay down for long. That's how a 162-game baseball season works. And don't be fooled, the A's are a great team.
The biggest reason this seems so bad is because it is happening right now. Want an example of my point that's a bit closer to home? The 2013 A's went 14-13 in August. In that case, the culprit was poor pitching rather than pitiful hitting, but part of the team wasn't working right and most of Athletics Nation was freaking out. Then, the good players started playing well again and they went 19-8 in September. And before you start worrying about getting blanked by the Royals in October, remember that the A's came one bad Balfour pitch away from sweeping the Tigers in four games in late August last year. In that series, they absolutely smoked every member of the Tigers' rotation, and it didn't end up mattering in October.
I can't tell the future. Maybe the A's offense as we knew it is gone and this is the new normal. Maybe one of the temporary problems, whatever you think is irreparably wrong with the team right now, will prove to be a permanent and fatal flaw. But looking at their success in the first four months, and the talent still on the roster, and then looking back through history, that seems unlikely. Every team has weaknesses, whether a hole in the lineup or a pitcher who isn't up to snuff or a shaky defense. Great teams hit snags, and they work past them. The slumps always look bad at the time, even insurmountable. They are usually forgotten in retrospect. Even the best teams, the ones who have what it takes to make it through October, hit these bumps in the road. This too shall pass.