Just as it is in the outside world, Memorial Day is a symbolic day in the baseball world. Of course in baseball, honoring your fallen veterans means having a promotional event for an old player who isn’t any good anymore, so the similarities only go so far.
Memorial Day comes at right around the 1⁄3 mark in the season and sure enough, the A’s play game #54 on Monday afternoon. It’s when teams say, “OK, it’s not early anymore” and take a realistic view at what they have, where they’re going, and what they need — or need to do.
It seems the Texas Rangers got the jump on the market by declaring last week that they were open for business. “Everything must go!” except for the players we’re going to keep. I’ve never gotten a $5M rebate at Kohl’s Furniture but I might get a heck of a rebate on a Cole Hamels.
For teams like the Red Sox and Orioles, it’s easy to decide whether you are going to spend the summer as buyers or sellers (hint to Baltimore: you’re not currently buried in the buyer). For the A’s, it’s not quite as straightforward. My thoughts as we hit the 1⁄3 mark...
The A’s have to be thrilled to sit 3 games over .500 following a 19 game stretch that threatened to sink them, all while losing yet more starting pitchers from an already depleted crew. They went 10-9, thanks in large part to their 7-3 road trip, and now spend the next 13 games playing Tampa Bay (4), Kansas City (7), and Texas (2).
If they could go 7-3 on a trip where they were supposed to go 3-7, certainly the A’s could disappoint the next two weeks when they are supposed to thrive. But at the same time, no one would be shocked if Oakland went 9-4 or 8-5, and the former would leave them a robust 8 games over .500, the latter still a solid 6 games over.
Note that if you are 8 games over .500 it means you have to play exactly .500 ball the rest of the way to win 85 games. That’s a low bar for a reasonably high win total. In other words, at least for now this is not just a development year; it’s a year where the wild card is still very much in the conversation until further notice.
As has been suggested pretty much every day since February, the 2018 A’s are probably going to go about as far as their starting pitching will take them. That’s why this week has been so important, with the unexpected emergence of Daniel Gossett and Frankie Montas, each exceeding expectations by a long shot.
Suffice it to say, a rotation of Manaea-Mengden-Cahill, along with the Gossett and Montas we just saw, could take this team a fair ways. That’s why I will be watching Gossett’s and Montas’ next start(s) with particular interest.
As for the competition, if you’re talking about a wild card you would assume that the main contenders for the spot not secured by the loser of the Yankees/Red Sox division sweepstakes are the Angels, Mariners, and Blue Jays.
Having watched the Blue Jays, I think the A’s are the better team and not just because we saw Toronto at its absolute worst. I think Oakland has more talent, and that while the Blue Jays are better than they looked last weekend they’re not actually all that much better.
I am similarly not overly impressed by the Mariners, even though they are currently winning and sit just a game back of Houston. They have gotten where they are thanks to an unlikely string of one-run wins, but if you look at their team you see a club likely to come crashing back to earth. James Paxton is, in my opinion, a legitimate ace but he has also never been able to pitch a full season so we’ll see how that develops. Behind him is not much, with Felix Hernandez sporting a 5.50 ERA, Wade LeBlanc and Marco Gonzales using smoke and mirrors, Mike Leake a solid innings eater but no great shakes.
Meanwhile, absent Robinson Cano Seattle is weak at more positions than they are strong. Nelson Cruz, Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, and Kyle Seager (despite a rough start) are legit, but Dee Gordon has regression written all over him and the player at 2B/CF — wherever Gordon isn’t — will be replacement level (currently that looks like the just-acquired Denard Span), Ryon Healy is a dangerous-but-not-really-good hitter with meh defense at 1B, Ben Gamel is a meh hitter with average defense in LF. and Mike Zunino is your basic .200/.300/.400 hitter behind the plate. They’re not bad; I’m just not sure they’re that good.
The team most likely to shove the A’s out of wild card position is the Angels, but their recent slump has revealed their warts. If Garrett Richards and Shohei Ohtani stay healthy all season they will be tough, but you can be forgiven if you don’t love those odds. Still, to nab a wild card the A’s are going to have to finish in 2nd place in the AL West and the Angels might be Oakland’s biggest obstacle in the end.
Still, is it terribly unreasonable to think the A’s can finish ahead of any one of those teams? If not, is it terribly unreasonable to think they could finish ahead of all of them? Is there any other team more likely to make a serious bid? (Tampa Bay and Minnesota certainly think so, but we’ll see.)
That is not to say the A’s are wild card contenders, certainly not front runners, but as they sit at 28-25 with 109 to play, and a soft schedule ahead, they have positioned themselves well to make a run. What it might take, ultimately, is to be “slight buyers” in July, fortifying their rotation with a starting pitcher who comes cheap enough that the A’s can be buyers without mortgaging too much of their future. Keep an eye on something like a Tyson Ross - Sheldon Neuse based deal for the kind of move that might make even skeptical A’s fans sit up and go, “You know what — they could do this.”
Buyers in July? Not yet. Maybe not ever. But positioned to take a real shot at the second wild card? At the moment, it seems like they’re on their way to being on their way.
Where do you see the A’s being positioned at the 1⁄3 mark?
This poll is closed
5.5 out with 109 to play? AL West champs
A wild card spot is theirs to lose
They will compete for a wild card spot all season
They look like a .500 team
They’ve overachieved and look like a sub-.500 team
Same old, same old: on their way to 87+ losses