Yes, the competition was primarily against teams that are just a stone’s throw away from one hundred losses on the long season, but the past week-plus has shown that the A’s no longer whither pathetically on the road. The A’s 6-3 road trip saw the team showcase impressive power, particularly from Matt Olson, but also from key players and role players up and down the lineup. The road trip also saw a string of very strong performances from a long-struggling pitching staff that can provide fans with just enough hope to believe the pitching woes won’t be repeated next year. Paired with the fact that the team’s defense is more of a plus than a minus, the A’s of September are far more fascinating and exciting to watch than any representative product Oakland has put forth since the first half of the 2014 season. And now is the final chance to see this team in-person, unless you live in the Dallas, Texas area, as the A’s return to Oakland for their final homestand of 2017.
- Houston: 93-59
- Anaheim: 76-76
- Texas: 76-76
- Seattle: 74-79
- Oakland: 69-83
Despite a mid-to-late summer surge, the non-Houston-and-Oakland teams in the AL West have fallen back to where the teams have sat most all season long, right at, or right below, the .500 mark. The Angels managed to sneak into the second wild card spot a couple of times, but never held the spot for more than a day or two before falling back behind the likes of the Twins and Royals. The Mariners, with all the talent on their roster, once again punched far below their weight, and being the victims of a sweep earlier this week has all but buried any hopes fans in Seattle may have had in the Mariners making a dramatic run in the season’s final ten games, or so. Seattle was swept at the hands of the Texas Rangers, who, once more, have become perhaps the most unlikely of all the Wild Card contenders, especially after trading away Yu Darvish and supposedly throwing in the towel on the season in late July.
The last time the A’s and Rangers faced each other, the A’s swept them out of Oakland, meaning the A’s have now won seven consecutive games against teams from the state of Texas. However, with their season on the line, Texas will most certainly be viewing each of the weekend’s games as a “must-win” affair, and will come as close as this A’s team will get to playing in a playoff atmosphere (this fact will become even more prudent in the season’s final four game series, also against Texas, but also played in Texas, assuming the A’s themselves don’t knock them out of contention before then).
The Rangers’ catchers are hitting better than ever, and its all thanks to John Lucroy getting traded to the Rockies over the summer. Robinson Chirinos has been OPS-ing 1.020 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts since the A’s and Rangers last saw each other, and backup catcher Brett Nicholas has been nearly as good when he has gotten playing time. Adrian Beltre is playing as well as ever, and appears to be fully recovered from his injury-plagued first half, and Ryan Rua appears to finally be breaking out at the big league level, though his impressive performance (with an OBP of .526) could just be a September mirage.
Friday, September 22nd at 7:05 - Kendall Graveman vs Nick Martinez
Saturday, September 23rd at 6:05 - Sean Manaea vs Miguel Gonzalez
Sunday, September 24th at 1:05 - TBA vs Martin Perez
How the A’s Win the Series
Graveman has been having a strong finish to his injury-riddled campaign, and is better equipped than any other A’s pitcher to contain the powerful bats of the Texas Rangers, especially in an evening game in Oakland. Sean Manaea must continue to fight his fatigue, as he was beat up once again in his start against the Red Sox and only lasted five innings against the hapless Phillies, but at the very least he tends to pitch better in front of the home crowd. And assuming Jharel Cotton’s groin is still acting up and he is unable to pitch Sunday, whomever the A’s choose to take his turn in the rotation, likely to be Raul Alcantara, will have their work cut out for them.
The A’s offense should have plenty of chances to score though, especially considering the A’s have had amongst the best offenses in all of baseball since the All Star Break thanks to all the youths, and especially considering the general state of the Rangers’ starting pitching. While Martin Perez has been a bright spot in their rotation, the rest of the starting staff has been falling well below expectations and has been hemorrhaging runs rather regularly.
The A’s have been playing better than any other team in the West of late, but now will face their toughest test in September. The Rangers have everything to play for in 2017, while the A’s are simply playing for 2018. If the young guns on Oakland’s roster can stay cool, calm, and collected, and use Texas’ desperate push towards October baseball against them, the A’s can continue to dash the Rangers’ playoff hopes, even in a meaningless season.