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The Real Reason The A’s Will Be Hard Pressed To Compete For A Wild Card

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees
Canha taste the post-season?
Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

No matter how optimistic you might be, it’s hard to look at the Houston Astros’ lineup and rotation and see the A’s challenging for the AL West crown in 2018. The wild card, though, is a different story.

Already the A’s have shown signs of being a .500 team, they have gone toe to toe with the Yankees at Yankee Stadium two days in a row, and if you are a .500 team you are a hot streak, or a key player emerging, from maybe being an 85-87 win team. 85-87 win teams have won wild card spots — most recently, in 2017 the Minnesota Twins rode 85 wins to the one-game playoff.

So here are the A’s, possibly an “81-win team give or take 6 games,” and isn’t that enough to give them at least a shot at the post-season? And there’s the rub: this isn’t like most seasons across MLB.

2018 is shaping up to be the year of the extreme “haves” and “have nots” with at least 3 super teams in the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros (who I am assuming, correctly or incorrectly, will eventually pull away from the pack), and more notably some truly bad-to-awful teams in the Orioles, Royals, White Sox, and Rangers, possibly soon to be joined in the bottom-feeding standings by the likes of the Tigers and Rays.

What are the implications on the wild card race? For one, it is almost a given that the first wild card is going to be either the Red Sox or the Yankees, whichever team falls short of winning the division. It is quite possible that both teams will win 95+ games, setting the bar for the first wild card at 95+ wins.

That leaves only one spot for the “pretty good teams” to fight each other over hoping to secure the second wild card. In the Angels and Mariners, as well as quite possibly the Blue Jays, you have teams that while second tier to Houston, New York, and Boston, are in their own right very solid clubs. It seems highly unlikely that the best of those teams is going to win only 85-87 games. More likely, this year the bar for the second wild card is going to be more like 90-92 wins.

A “.500-ish team right now” can certainly hope to win 85-87 games by year’s end, perhaps with an infusion of talent somewhere and/or a few breaks along the way. But jump all the way to 90 wins? That becomes a tall order.

Now there is one avenue, especially considering that arguably the best teams likely to be in the wild card picture reside in the A’s division: the Angels and Mariners. If Oakland were to play especially well within the division, knocking off the Angels and Mariners along the way in a series of “two game swing” victories, perhaps the A’s could boost their own record while at the same time bringing down the very teams with which they are competing.

So far so bad on that, to put it mildly. The A’s are just 9-17 against the AL West, including a 4-9 record against the Angels and Mariners combined. Oopsies. That’s a lot of 2-game swings the wrong way — but the A’s do have 25 more cracks at these two teams going forward. Perhaps it’s not just that the A’s need to get hot at some point this summer; it may be that they need to do it at just the right times.

In any event, while you might be wise to take the “under” on 82 A’s wins, there are realistic scenarios where the team takes one important step forward to become a legitimate over-.500 team. The problem, as I see it, is that it may be more likely the A’s win 87 games than it is that 87 wins will get you anything better than a comfy seat in front of the TV set.

Poll

Which scenario do you predict for the A’s?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Party like it’s 2012 and capture the AL West
    (54 votes)
  • 2%
    Win 90 games and secure a wild card spot
    (23 votes)
  • 5%
    Win 86-87 games and capture a wild card spot
    (49 votes)
  • 15%
    Win 86-87 games but miss the wild card
    (130 votes)
  • 48%
    Continue on as a .500 team, missing the playoffs
    (399 votes)
  • 21%
    Get exposed over time, wind up with a losing record
    (176 votes)
831 votes total Vote Now