Last year, I really didn't know what to make of the team until July. I'm sure most of you have blocked out the memories by now, but the team alternated between terrible and promising with ridiculous frequency. April and May were marked by a cycle of blowout victory followed by one-run loss. They were always on the verge of breaking out, but never really crossed the threshold.
The 2015 A's were so unpleasant because an inconsistent mystery of a team is always more frustrating than a straight-up bad team. And, with the randomness inherent in baseball, you get a killer dose of the gambler's fallacy – "there's no way the A's are going to keep losing every one-run game, right? They're due for a winning streak!". They certainly were great at keeping you on the line, at least.
It wasn't until a few weeks before the trade deadline I was willing to 100% give up.
The 2016 A's have the same issue, but on the other side of the coin. The team is still maddeningly inconsistent with glaring flaws, but I don't think anyone can call them straight-up bad, even in their darkest moments. The blowout victories that marked April 2015 are completely gone. But those one-run losses? Those are gone, too. The 2016 A's thrive in close games, when the pressure is on and every plate appearance is key. They're certainly significantly better than the 2015 A's, but just as stressful. This is a nearly-.500 team with exactly one easy victory on their record.
This team will take years off your life, folks.
Today's game was really indicative of that. I haven't made any secret of my devotion to Chris Bassitt as a top-of-the-rotation starter. But he had to battle today. The 7 IP/2 ER statline suggests an easier game than it actually was. The Royals are the defending champions. They're a team full of tough, contact-oriented hitters. They're a pitcher's nightmare.
Bassitt looked absolutely great today, but they still made him work for every single out. It's a testament to Bassitt's skill that he was able to work through every tough at-bat and end up with a statline as good as he did. He really didn't make more than a few bad pitches (although Mike Moustakas hit a homer in the 3rd inning, it was on a very good 94 MPH sinker down). It was still an absolute battle, and Bassitt lived up to the challenge.
After the fifth inning, he lost it a little bit - Bassitt has the unfortunate tendency to unravel after 70 pitches or so. But he fought through it. If anything differentiates the 2016 A's from the 2015 A's, it's the ability to fight through it.
Today's 7 innings are at least tied for the best start the A's have had this year. That's more of a slight to the A's starting pitching than anything else, but it's still a massive compliment.
The offense was still like pulling teeth. The A's were one-hit through the first seven innings. And trust me, Kris Medlen was good, but not one-hit-though-seven-innings good. They managed to score one run on the dinkiest rally in the history of rallies: walk, single, dropped third strike allowing a runner on 3rd to score. The A's did not excise their RISP demons today, folks, they just got lucky.
Also: double plays in key situations from Billy Butler and Danny Valencia. Not ideal, guys.
But if the 2016 A's ability to "fight through it" defines their season so far, the last couple innings were pretty perfect examples. Chris Coghlan and Jed Lowrie, both players mired in the middle of miserable slumps, combined to tie the game in the 7th inning. Coghlan hit a ball very, very hard for a ground rule double, and Lowrie singled him in.
Just like that, it was a bullpen game. And the 2016 A's win bullpen games, apparently.
Joakim Soria came in to pitch for the 8th inning, and Billy Burns did his part to cement himself in the everyday lineup by hitting a leadoff triple. Even the A's, with their terrible RISP woes, can't screw up a leadoff triple 100% of the time. Josh Reddick hit a sac fly to take the lead, and Ryan Madson got his 4th save of the year.
This team alternates between unwatchably bad and thrilling, just like 2015. Today was the intersection of both identities - they were terrible for the first 7 innings, and then out of nowhere it was a flashback to the great victories of 2012. I still don't know what to make of this team. They could win the division, they could lose 90 games. I don't know. But there is a certain strain of resiliency that didn't exist in 2015 and late 2014.
If you're going to take away anything from today's game, take this: the A's haven't been fully out of a game yet this year. And when you're always in the game, great things can happen.