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End Of Trip Reality Check, Both Directions

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at Toronto Blue Jays
“You’ve been A’sed.”
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The A’s are riding high right now, having won the first 3 in Toronto and doing so today in dramatic fashion, SWIPE RIGHT style. Now a season-high tying 2 games over .500 with a 3-game winning streak and an unlikely 6-3 road trip in progress, you can’t blame A’s fans who are thinking that a wild card berth isn’t so far fetched. Heck, the A’s are just 4.5 out of first place right now with 116 to play...

On the flip side, in this series alone Oakland has lost 2 starting pitchers from an already depleted crew, with their Opening Day starter sporting a 5.00 ERA at AAA, their prized prospect waiting for his new ligament to marinate, and a 9-man bullpen that somehow seems short-handed...

So what is reality? Baseball is a bi-polar ride of ebbs and flows in which you are wise never to get too high or too low — although some (I’m looking at you, Gallo de Cielo) would argue that you should always get too high.

Here are some musings to consider...

Are the losses of Triggs and Anderson a death knell?

To me the answer to this is an easy ‘no’. Remember that Triggs has never thrown as many as 100 IP at any level and realistically the A’s were never going to get more than 20 starts out of him. Had he gone through the season without interruption, Triggs likely would have had to be shut down by August. Unless his season is over, and at this moment there is optimism that Triggs is not headed for TJS, if Triggs has to miss a month it’s just a month he misses now instead of later. Until he fails to make 20 starts, Triggs’ maladies don’t mean a whole lot other than reordering when those 20 starts occur.

Also, for now Triggs’ spot probably goes to Kendall Graveman and while Graveman has been legitimately bad so far this season overall, not only was he showing signs of life recently but you would have to like his chances, going forward, of outperforming Triggs. It’s not a guaranteed upgrade or lateral move, but it very likely is.

As for Anderson, I don’t think the A’s will miss a beat replacing him with Daniel Gossett even though Gossett has been, so far, a AAAA pitcher. I still would put Gossett a tick above Anderson on my “expected performance in the big leagues” depth chart, even more so if you value likely health, an area in which Gossett and Anderson could not be more opposite.

In other words, if the rotation now looks like Manaea-Mengden-Graveman-Cahill-Gossett, it is probably as good or better than the rotation that began the road trip (Manaea-Mendgden-Triggs-Cahill-Anderson).

Are the A’s overachieving on this road trip?

Well, probably. Those rotations I just outlined, whether you look at the old one or the new one, are shaky — and now have even less depth than the ‘little-to-no depth’ felt before. No doubt the team can hit, and with Dustin Fowler in the mix the defense continues to get more and more solid. Also, Lou Trivino has been ‘the real deal’ and combines with Treinen to give the A’s two impressive arms at the back end of the bullpen. But is this a team that could compete strongly with the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox over the course of a full season? Probably not.

The A’s are currently a dangerous team, as magnanimously acknowledged by Red Sox manager Alex Cora, as well as a team capable of winning 7 of 9 on a grueling road trip (which they came, literally, within a thread of doing). They just have enough flaws to be prone to taking two steps back following two steps forward. They’re looking good; it’s just that ‘good’ is slightly different from ‘great’.

Can the A’s overachieve?

I’m starting to think that’s a definite maybe. This team certainly has moxie, playing with the confidence of a group that has grown up winning together. Sometimes there’s a value in not knowing how good you’re not supposed to be. The A’s, as constituted, may not be ‘great,’ but ‘good’ can get you into the wild card conversation.

If the A’s look like a .500 team on paper, and they have that ability to maximize their abilities, grind out the close ones, find ways to win instead of ways to lose, and keep believing, perhaps that’s an 85-win team and now you’re a few fortunate bounces away from the post-season.

In that regard, this road trip has the potential to be the team’s ‘coming out party’ in which they throw down the gauntlet and announce to the Blue Jays, Mariners, and Angels that the wild card race is on. A few head-to-head wins over the Mariners and Angels, and in the standings it very much will be.

The bottom line?

The bottom line with this 2018 A’s team has stayed remarkably stable over time: can they squeeze enough starting pitching out of the group they have? At one time, Graveman was their horse, A.J. Puk was going to ride in on his own horse to infuse the team with talent, Jharel Cotton and Paul Blackburn were going to provide ample depth.

Now? The A’s keep digging deeper to cobble together a rotation just good enough to let the rest of the team get games to the house. If it takes Josh Lucas going straight from customs to the mound for 3.2 sterling innings, that magic can’t last 6 months. If it just takes Graveman getting back on track and Gossett taking a small step forward, that could totally happen.

Buyers at the deadline, letting go of a top prospect to make a run in 2018? I doubt it. Strangely able to compete with the group they have? Possibly. Even with Triggs and Anderson down, at the end of this trip the A’s and their fans have every right to feel better about the team’s chances than they did a week ago, not just for the wins but also for how those wins transpired. If nothing else, no one is looking forward to playing the A’s and that’s always a great sign.