Happy Labor Day, AN. Here's some pregame reading before the A's take on Seattle at 1:05pm at the Coliseum.
The A's haven't played baseball this bad since Bob Geren was their manager. By the numbers, sure, they might have a few longer losing streaks between 2011 and now, and Oakland is 4-6 over its last 10 games, which is objectively not terrible. But at no point in the Bob Melvin era has such a profound feeling of doom descended upon this team and its fans.
Obviously, the expectations the A's faced in 2011 and 2014 aren't remotely comparable. One team was never expected to content and had its manager fired mid-season; the other was expected to compete for a pennant from Opening Day onward, and anything short of a World Series appearance — maybe even a win — would've been considered hugely disappointing.
Everything was going quite well until the All-Star Break, and things didn't start to truly go poorly until the end of July. Now August is over, and the A's won just 12 games.
Look, 12-17 is bad. That's .413 baseball. But it's really not out of the realm of possibility that a team playing .610 ball — that's about 18 wins in August — wins 12 instead. It's really not that big a deal, because it's baseball, and sample sizes are massive and thousands of anomalous things happen through the course of a single season, and they get wiped out by the reality of 162 games evening everything out.
So the A's won 12 games in August instead of 18, and it feels like the end of the world because the Angels happened to go on a tear and beat the A's five out of seven times in that stretch, turning what seemed like a safe Oakland lead into a five-game deficit.
Five games is hard to make up. It's really hard to make up five games when you only have 26 left to play. But there's good news.
The first good tiding is that the A's are coming home. They get three games against Seattle and another three against Houston, and that's before they head back east to take on the White Sox. That said, the Mariners are very, very good.
They'll throw Chris Young tomorrow, and he's given the A's trouble. He's going up against Jason Hammel. So...what about Tuesday? Well, Sonny Gray will get the start on Tuesday, and the Mariners will counter with James Paxton, whose breakout August is going under-appreciated. Paxton has only thrown 39⅓ innings this year, but he's been stellar. His ERA is 1.83, and at the rate things are going, it's not hard to see him giving the A's trouble.
Then comes Wednesday. The only good news about Wednesday is that Jon Lester is the man unfortunate enough to face off against the American League's best pitcher, Felix Hernandez. If all goes well, the A's might lose 1-0 instead of, say, 7-1. Even if Adam Dunn swats a home run or two, this will be a difficult series to win.
I did say there was good news: series against Houston and the White Sox. The Astros will throw Brad Peacock at some point over the weekend, and Chicago is simply a below-average baseball team in the middle of a particularly rough stretch. Better yet, if the Sox stick with their current rotation (they have two off days in the coming week, so they may not), the A's would miss Chris Sale entirely.
Then the A's go to Seattle for three games. That's the worst of it, really. One weekend in Seattle, no more games in Anaheim. The bad news is that the A's could turn things around in the next two weeks, play good baseball, and barely pick up any ground. The good news is the schedule at the end of September.
The A's finish the season with a homestand that might be a gift from the gods. They play Rangers three times at the Coliseum, then get the Phillies (this is Bud Selig's legacy — a crappy NL East team facing an AL pennant contender in late September). If the A's are serious about getting back in this thing, they need to win five of those six games.
Then they get the Angels. This series is going to be huge, obviously, but it's kind of relaxing if you see it like this: If the A's don't start to play better, they certainly won't win the division and they might miss the playoffs entirely. They'll have to play better (I think they will) to win the division. And once they're playing well, three games at home against the team they're chasing is a godsend. This series will either be fantastic or already meaningless and depressing. But the A's can make up three games in three days, and they might need to.
The cherry on top is the next trip, Arlington for three games while the Angels head to Seattle. Can you imagine the A's finishing the Angels series a game or two out, only to sweep the Rangers in Arlington while getting some help from Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma as Seattle finalizes its playoff push?
In a nutshell, the opportunity is there, mainly in late September when Oakland and Los Angeles face off head to head in the midst of a dreamlike A's homestand. But there are only 27 games, and the Angels have series against the Astros, Twins, Rangers, and the Astros again.
The real prediction? The Angels still hold a lead of five games, maybe even six or seven, come September 14. Then the A's start pushing, and it shrinks a game or two by the end of the next week.
Then the A's take two of three from the Angels in Oakland, and the lead sits at two-ish games heading into the final series of the year. And then the A's take two of three from Texas, and the Angels lose two of three to Seattle, and the Angels win the division by the narrowest of margins.
Stranger things have obviously happened, and given the remarkable September pushes of 2012 and 2013, nothing would surprise me. But the A's slumped too hard for too long, and this hole is a deep one to climb out of.
The A's will play in the wild-card game, and they'll find a way to throw Jon Lester against Felix Hernandez, who will inevitably be there to continue his Oakland ownage. If the A's found a way to get through that game, they'd play the Angels. Baseball is weird. But my gut feeling is that the A's will find a way to play in a Division Series.
With a five-game series, Oakland's shot at a title becomes as realistic as it was in June, when the A's were on top of the world playing .630 baseball. This was supposed to be the season where all the pieces fell into place. They still might.