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Can the A’s still compete in 2017?

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They’re 16-20, but just a single game out of second place. Is there still time for the team to turn it around?

Detroit Tigers v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

After dropping two very winnable games, the A’s are now 16-20. That’s not a great number, worse when you consider the A’s ability to compete is largely affected by their ability to start strong and not sell at the deadline. However, they’re not out of it by any stretch of the imagination and it only takes a slight stretch to imagine them in it. So what do we really have with the A’s? Some factors in their attempt at defying the odds.

The Astros are wrecking everything

The good part

It’s not the Angels?

The bad part

The A’s have 16 wins; the Astros are 14 games above .500. That’s a big gap.

It seems that the Astros tanking strategy is finally coming to its peak, with the team being one of the best in the game, head and shoulders above their division rivals. Somewhat hilariously, the Astros have been carried mostly by players drafted in the later rounds or acquired from outside the organization. Their top draft picks have played a part but are far from being the team’s heart and soul.

It’s hard to say how sustainable their success is, we are still very early in the year. They certainly look the part of a dominant force and even if they’re playing above their pay-grade at this time, their divisional lead is likely insurmountable. It’s not impossible for a team to blow a divisional lead as large as the ‘stros (sorry) but at this juncture, it looks like the A’s best bet is one of the Wild Card slots.

The rest of the division has been meh

The good news

Truth is, the A’s need some luck in order for their late summer schedule to truly matter. While there are some great things going on in Oakland, it’s still generous to paint the A’s as having a true talent anywhere at or above .500.

So far, it appears the A’s do have a bit of good fortune, and that’s a very beatable division outside of Houston. A win is a win, even if it’s against Dillon Overton (who yes, has started this year) and if the A’s can find their groove, they have the chance to sneak some wins by virtue of an easier than normal schedule.

The bad news

For one, the A’s have already played a rather lenient slate of games and still, their record sits at four games under .500. It doesn’t matter how bad the teams you’re up against are if your talent level is considerably worse.

Next up is the fact that this division isn’t necessarily destined to be comprised of a single good team. The Rangers have probably underachieved thus far and could very well rediscover their form that led to two consecutive division titles.

On the flip side, Mariners and the Angels have seen major injuries to their already thin pitching staffs, severely diminishing their early season hopes.

This division is just asking for one team to step up and steal some easy wins on their way to a Wild Card berth. It’s there for the A’s taking, but it’s also there for the Rangers or Mariners or Angels. The A’s may not be the best of the meh.

By the way, the Wild Card picture (which is almost entirely not worth looking at this early on, but let’s do this dance) is wide open outside the AL West, too. It looks like the AL East will put a team through but the second spot is completely up for grabs.

Yonder Alonso is an early season dinger machine

The good news

I think you get the good news.

The bad news

Adjustments are integral to the sport, and the league is certainly taking notice of Alonso. Things will get harder as they realize he’s actually a stud, the product of a swing change gone right. So a slow down is possible, maybe even likely as his power persists.

The other piece of bad news is that Alonso is in the final year of his contract, set to hit free agency for the first time next season. Maybe Alonso likes the A’s, he definitely loves Oakland (I’m assuming, but how could you not), but even if that’s the case he’s unlikely to agree to an extension if the A’s even offered. This could be his only shot at free agency and if he keeps up the studly hitting, the rewards will be ample when he hits the open market. There’s a chance he could be extended, but it seems unlikely.

So should the A’s find themselves out of contention as the trade deadline approaches, they’ll likely look to cash in on their newest asset. That effectively shortens their window to climb back into race and if they do, they’ll face a difficult deadline decision.

Jed Lowrie has refound his stroke

The good news

Lowrie has conceivably solved his normal in season decline by sleeping, proving once again that sleep is the cure for all ails. Please consider this your permission slip to nap on the job.

Lowrie being good is great for the team, and I’d like to take this time to acknowledge that I was totally freaking wrong about him when I repeatedly suggested the A’s just cut ties. Whoops!

The bad news

Like Alonso, Lowrie isn’t around for much longer. It’s a touch disheartening that such a huge portion of the 2017 on field value is unlikely to be around in 2018 and for a team that is still in a rebuilding phase, it bodes poorly for the future.

Same deal in terms of the deadline too, as the A’s could effectively pull themselves out of a chance at a second half comeback by moving their assets. The team’s calendar is constrained by a need to cash in value if they’re not in the race.

The rotation depth

The good news

It took some finagling and the order still isn’t set, but the A’s rotation is looking solid for the time being. Jesse Hahn, originally AAA depth has put up ace like numbers and Andrew Triggs has been a straight up ace. Jharel Cotton and Sean Manaea got off to slow starts, both missing time but both being capably replaced by the likes of a newly healthy Sonny Gray, the aformentioned Hahn, and an improved Kendall Graveman.

Now, Cotton is polishing his stuff in AAA where Daniel Mengden is also rehabbing. Chris Bassitt should be back sooner than later and all told, the A’s depth is likely the envy of the division.

The bad news

For one, things can change quick. Injuries are a part of pitching, and odds are the A’s depth will just be the A’s rotation at some point.

The A’s haven’t been conservative with their young arms recently, but there will likely be inning limits somewhere along the rotation this year. Andrew Triggs won’t last forever, Bassitt won’t have all that many innings in him when he returns, so on and so forth.

The A’s are still decently well positioned, but there’s a simple formula to keep in mind when thinking about a team’s pitching staff. Managing expectations can keep you sane, and if the A’s come out on the positive side of this formula, even better.

Actual pitching depth = (perceived depth * .8) + one disastrously sad injury

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All in all, it’s too early in the year to make any declarations. The sample is still small, and there are building blocks on the team that could lead to a shocking playoff berth but there are flaws that could suck the team into an extended rough patch while dissipating all hope. Stay tuned.

Do you think the A’s can still compete in 2017?