The 2015 Oakland A's have played 157 games and most of them have gone poorly. This was a season of bad baseball for the A's, and the fact that it followed three straight postseason years makes it even more of a bummer. All that's left to do is play out the string before a long winter full of figuring out how to make 2016 a happier story.
That's one way to look at it, at least. There are five games left, and you could see them as the final roadblock separating us from putting this miserable season in the past. Or, you could see them as an opportunity not to be missed.
There's a good chance you gave up on the A's season long ago. There's no harm in that; it doesn't mean you stopped liking the team, just that you no longer saw it necessary to budget three hours of your time each night to watch them stumble their way to 90+ losses. By August, maybe you were watching every other night, or every day but only for a few innings, or perhaps something else in life grabbed your attention and you went a week or two without putting on a game at all. For me, there were days when I found myself following a Midland RockHounds playoff game only to look up and realize I'd missed half the A's game and Oakland was trailing 7-1. It happens.
And so, these final games are an opportunity. They are your chance to look back and grab one last fleeting glimpse of summer, to say goodbye to some players whom you may never see again, and to see the green and gold play ball one more time before March. Take it for granted now and risk regretting it in December, because baseball is not going to wait up for you. And remember, it was only two years ago that Henderson Alvarez threw a no-hitter in Game 162 for the 100-loss Marlins -- big moments can keep happening all the way to the bitter end.
Here are three reasons to watch these final games.
1. The A's can still play spoiler
Entering Tuesday, only two games separate the first-place Rangers and the third-place Angels, with the Astros nestled in between. Houston holds the second wild card, but with only a half-game lead over the Angels and tied in the loss column. The A's have two games left in Anaheim.
When your team doesn't win, sometimes the best way to make yourself feel better is to watch the failure of another club you dislike. For some, that means taking solace that the Giants followed their odd-year pattern by missing the playoffs, maybe even going so far as to watch them play this week in hopes of seeing the Dodgers clinch at AT&T. Others will have to wait until the postseason, so they can root against the Yankees or the Royals.
For me, it means seeing the Angels go down. Just can't stand that team, and if I have to lose then hopefully I'm at least dragging them with me. I'm wired to automatically dislike them because they're near Los Angeles and because they decided to become a big-money bully a decade ago, but they upped the ante and became actively gross with the way they handled Josh Hamilton this spring. Also, they have Erick Aybar and C.J. Wilson, and I find both of them annoying for different reasons.
The Angels scraped out a win on Monday, but there are still two more chances to sink them. Houston is playing Seattle right now but shouldn't face Felix, and then they finish against Arizona. The Rangers finish with a four-game showdown at home against the Angels. That puts Oakland in prime position to play spoiler, because handing the Halos a loss or two will help ensure that they still trail Houston in the standings entering that Rangers series.
Only a monster would be rooting against the Astros to at least make the Wild Card game. I don't have any love for the Rangers, but remember that while we were enjoying the good times in 2012-14, Texas fans, having come oh-so-close to a title two seasons in a row, were watching their team lose the division (to us) on the last day of 2012, then lose a Wild Card game, then lose a Game 163 tiebreaker the next year, then lose their entire team to injury twice over and bottom out in last place. Like with the Astros, it's hard not to be at least a little happy for the Rangers, because they've certainly paid their dues.
Watch these next two games so you can root for the A's to help knock the Angels out of playoff contention.
2. The pitching matchups are surprisingly good
With the way the rotation has fallen apart, you'd expect to see a lackluster pitching lineup down the stretch. That's not the case, though.
Tue: Chris Bassitt
Wed: Barry Zito
Fri: Sean Nolin
Sat: Felix Doubront
Sun: Chris Bassitt
That's not so bad. Sure, we already said our final goodbyes to Zito, and he'll probably give up eleventy homers to Trout and Pujols in the first three innings alone on Wednesday, but it's still more interesting than watching Cody Martin. I'm happy to get one more look at Nolin, too, though I don't care to see Doubront again.
And then, to top it off, we get two starts by Bassitt, who is pictured here:
Bassitt the bunny. Why not hound? pic.twitter.com/10V69su8zb— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) September 27, 2015
It's not long ago that he was arguably the hottest player on the team before missing a month to shoulder soreness. He wasn't sharp in his return last week, but how he rebounds in these final two outings will probably play into how we talk about him this winter. Will he get blown up, or worse yet re-injured, and leave us with lingering questions? Or will he put together a couple of good games and allow us to continue confidently penciling him into our 2016 rotation plans? Of everyone who is still actually playing, Bassitt is probably the one whose performance will give us the most new information.
Watch these next five games to see how Bassitt recovers, and to see Nolin and Zito one more time.
3. You don't know who won't be back next year
Think back to September of 2014. You probably knew you were watching the last of Jed Lowrie in Oakland, and you knew that shorter-term guys like Luke Gregerson and Jon Lester would move on. You might even have suspected that Shark would be flipped. But you surely didn't realize just how much turnover there would be, and how many key players were suiting up for their final games in green and gold. Why will this year be any different? And who will be the surprising departure(s)?
I doubt that Billy Beane will wheel and deal like he did last winter, but there could be a veteran trade or two. I still have a hunch that Jesse Chavez will be dealt, provided someone will (over)pay a starter's haul for him..Josh Reddick fits the profile of a guy Beane usually cashes in on before his final year of team control, and he just reestablished his value with a healthy bounce-back season. There's a new generation of second basemen knocking on the door (Brett Lawrie, Joey Wendle, Colin Walsh, Chad Pinder), and who knows if Eric Sogard and his seven-figure arbitration salary could be moved to clear space on the roster and payroll. I'd love to tell you that Stephen Vogt is safe, but Josh Freaking Donaldson got traded last winter. No one is safe. I'm not even going to say that other name you're thinking.
When I look at the team as it is, I can see two possible paths. One is to mostly stand pat -- tweak around the edges, sign a key free agent or two, but mostly hope for youngsters to continue improving and for injured guys to recover. The other is to dig an even deeper foundation for the rebuild by going Full Astros, trading everyone in the previous paragraph and stocking up all the prospects. Perhaps it's really a spectrum, and those are the two endpoints, but either way those are your choices.
I don't really think Beane will go Full Astros because I don't think he likes to punt a season before it starts, and my guess is that only one or two key veterans will be dealt. But this is a picture that can only be cleared up with time, and I bet Beane himself could honestly tell you he doesn't know how things will play out yet -- it likely depends on how the market shapes up and what kinds of offers he can get, since there's nothing forcing the team in any particular direction right now.
Watch these games because they're your last chance to see somebody play for the A's, and you don't yet know whom.