If one thing is clear from the MLB playoffs, it’s that their 3000x worse without the A’s. The quality of baseball been high, but the presence of Matt Olson has been zero and therefore, it’s a mediocre showing. Science.
Still, there are key trends and takeaways from the teams vying for the World Series, and it’s best to pay attention while baseball is still around.
Relief pitching is a necessity
Every team standing has a phenomenal pen, and they’ve relied on them more than ever. Starters have thrown short stints all playoffs long, partially because they’ve been bad and partially because there are so many bullpen arms to shoulder the rest of the load.
The A’s biggest need is arms, particularly those to throw in relief. Teams like the Yankees and the Astros basically have three or four of Blake Treinen, the A’s best reliever. Oakland’s pen as it stands just doesn’t compare in terms of depth or quality to the teams who are still in the hunt.
Early in series, we saw teams stealing games by putting those dominant high leverage guys early in games, something the A’s just can’t compete with. Where exactly the A’s are going to find two or three trustworthy, top tier guys who throw hard remains to be seen, but it’s high on the priority list.
The home run trend has carried into the postseason
The playoffs are often thought of as a different run environment than the regular season, and it’s true that scores often look different as October gets rolling.
This fall, the home run has remained king after a record setting regular season. There were 13 more dingers hit during this division cycle than last years (in two more games).
More anecdotally, ace pitchers were run mostly due to the longball, a play that can change a game in an instant.
With the juiced ball and a league full of offenses trying to take advantage, games are often being decided by more and more by the longball, even after the regular season. That’s good for the A’s, whose offense did rely on the dinger, and whose success could carry over to a potential playoff run.
What’s pace of play?
With every pitch potentially the difference between glory and going home, pitchers are being more meticulous than ever in deciding what to throw (and resting more to throw harder). Managers are making more changes than ever, and the game is taking just forever to go by.
Most of the games thus far have eclipsed the four hour mark, some have gone much longer, and there’s no reason to expect the games will shorten as the stakes are raised.
The takeaway here? I dunno, bring a book to the game or something.
Commissioner Rob Manfred is likely to implement some changes to improve pace of play, most likely a pitch clock and possibly more. It’s unlikely the A’s or any team can prep for that change, but it’s a change that’s coming.
Baseball is still very random
It’s easy to draw parallels between the 2017 Indians and the 2002 Athletics. Both had outrageous win streaks, and both ended up losing to seemingly inferior opponents in the Division Series.
That doesn’t mean the A’s shouldn’t try to win 23 games in a row next year, nor does it mean they should do anything less than put the best possible team on the field with an eye on the future.
Baseball being random is good news for the A’s. For the first time maybe ever, the closest team in comparison to the A’s is the Yankees, a team that exceeded expectations and made the playoffs before their proposed window. They’re still alive and kicking in spite of drawing the juggernaut Indians, and that could very well be the A’s next year.