The Oakland A’s swept the Royals this week in a four-game series in Kansas City, and it was wonderful. Three of the wins were blowouts, and the total score was 43-12. A couple young pitchers dazzled, including Sean Manaea in his first matchup against his old organization, and Ryon Healy and the revamped lineup went nuts.
If the Royals had done the sweeping, they’d be 78-68, two games out of a wild card spot with no one but the leaders ahead of them. Instead they’re 74-72, six games out and staring up at four more contending teams. It’s not mathematically over, but functionally they are probably cooked thanks to the egg they laid against the A’s. That’s a satisfying bit of schadenfreude for Oakland fans who have loved to hate the Royals over the last few years.
Indeed, there were plenty of reasons to be happy with this week’s results. But there’s still that one dark thought to keep in the back of your mind as you watch our squad run out the string, and that has to do with their 2017 draft position.
I’m not actively worried about next year’s draft, but its existence is a reality and the events of the next two weeks will be a factor in how it goes. We obsess over every other detail, so why not this? If the A’s spend their final 16 games crushing more opponents, with their young rookies playing like the core of the next good A’s team, then screw the draft. Now that Oakland is finally rebuilding and the lineup is full of relevant players, I’d rather see them do well.
But they’re going to lose some games along the way, and there’s no harm in looking at where they currently stand. The A’s are 64-82, and if the season ended today they would have the No. 8 pick. But a lot can still change.
The top two picks are probably locked up, with the Twins and Braves fighting for MLB’s cellar (92 and 90 losses, respectively). But after that there are eight teams standing between 81 and 84 losses:
10. Brewers, 66-81 (+3.5)
9. Phillies, 65-82 (+2.5)
8. A’s 64-82 (+2)
6. Rays, 63-83 (+1)
6. Angels, 63-83 (+1)
5. Reds, 62-83 (+0.5)
3. Padres, 62-84
3. D’Backs, 62-84
That’s a heck of a jumble at the top (bottom?), and it means that any of these teams can still reasonably pick between No. 3 and No. 10 next June. (Next-worst are the Rockies at 77 losses, and the White Sox at 75 — still relevant but not yet in this immediate picture.)
I’m not terribly interested in analyzing the remaining schedules of each team, because at this point I don’t think it’s meaningful. The good teams will start clinching playoff berths soon, so matchups with them will become less daunting (and at an unpredictable rate) as they begin resting regulars. All I want to know is how often these clubs will play against each other, because someone has to win each game.
The biggest remaining overlap is a crucial one — the Padres and D’Backs, who currently lead our tight group of also-rans in the loss column. The division basement rivals still play six games against each other, and that should be enough to either knock one of them out of the Hunt For No. 3 entirely or (if they split) erase the tiny advantage they each currently hold over the field. The only other matchups are three-game sets between Brewers/Reds and A’s/Angels, so the possibilities are still wide open.
The most important thing is winning. I want to see Joey Wendle keep hitting .349, and Khris Davis reach 40 homers, and Daniel Mengden put up some more zeroes. I’d like to capture the season series against the Angels, even if it means giving them a better pick -- it would only be sporting to give their pathetic farm system a glass of water anyway. I want the A’s to get in the habit of being good, and I want the Baby A’s to experience a winning culture right from the start.
But in the meantime, this is the consolation prize. It’s having your cake and eating it too. If the A’s win, then we win. And if the A’s lose, then at least you get to check and see who they passed in the draft order as a result. The baseball draft is notoriously a crapshoot — the best player can come from any slot (No. 25 Mike Trout) or even any round (Albert Pujols, 13th), or looking at the shorter-term, a one-time No. 1 name like A.J. Puk can suddenly slip down to No. 6 at the last minute. But if positioning matters anywhere then it’s the top 10 picks, which is where the A’s currently stand, so let’s keep an eye on it without letting it become a primary focus over developing the current squad into a winner.