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Why The WC Game Won’t Be Played In Oakland And Other Pearls Of Analysis

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Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics
“I’m good for the first 9...”
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Note that my pearls of analysis are generally less coherent than “Pearls Before Swine” and I’m feeling more like Rat than like Pig today, so beware.

Now, no one can predict anything — as shown by the A’s taking a season pundits pegged at around 76 wins, and AN’s most ardent fans pegged as a “non-contending year” in which .500 would be an encouraging step, and turning all baseball wisdom upside down. So when I say the one outcome that isn’t going to happen is a wild card game in Oakland, you should probably buy your wild card tickets now.

But while the division remains a long shot at 3.5 games, at the same 3.5 games hosting the wild card is actually a steeper climb. Not only are the A’s 4 back of the Yankees in the loss column, they lose an automatic tie-breaker by virtue of having tied the series series and fashioned a worse record against the AL West than the Yankees have against the AL East.

It means the A’s, in order to host a wild card game, have to finish in 2nd place with a record at least one full game better than New York, which means that for all intents and purposes Oakland is 5 games out with 20 to play.

Could the A’s pick up 5 games on the Yankees in 20 games? It’s possible, especially with New York and Boston going head to head 6 more times, but if the A’s play so well as to catch and pass the Yankees they might be doing what it takes to the steal the division.

So there are still avenues to a wild card in Oakland, mostly involving a drastic collapse by the Yankees but not by the Astros, but it is possibly the least likely outcome of all the ones still reasonably on the table.

Wild Card Pitching...???

Knowing that most roads are leading Seattle to their living room TV, Houston to await Cleveland, and the A’s to travel to New York for a ‘winner take all’ wild card showdown, one much debated question on AN is how Oakland intends to try to get their pitchers through 9 successful innings in the Bronx.

It is actually quite the dilemma in that valid reasons exclude almost every choice. Sean Manaea has eliminated himself from consideration by picking September as the month he can’t raise his left arm. As for the rest?

Trevor Cahill

Cahill has actually been my presumed choice most of the second half of the season, because I believe in his stuff, he has pitched in post-season games before, and he tends to keep the ball in the park (a huge consideration against the Yankees and especially at Yankee Stadium).

Yet there are two factors that, despite their small-sample volatility, give me enough pause to eliminate him. One is that he has been so consistently terrible on the road (his road ERA now stands at an absurd 7.02) and the other is that Cahill’s toughest inning has often been the 1st. In a game where you need someone to be great for a short time, more than you need him to be decent for a longer time, the 1st inning is paramount.

In general I would tend to put a little more stock in the truth of a “1st inning” stat than in “home/away splits” because 1st inning troubles are a real pitching thing whereas home/away splits tend to be random noise. But both have persisted to the point where I think it’s risky to hope neither issue surfaces in a wild card game.

Mike Fiers

Fiers has done a great job since joining the A’s and is having a solid season overall. But I would not start him in a wild card at Yankee Stadium simply because he is so HR-prone. With relievers-a-plenty lined up to handle most of the game, you can live with a “2 on and one out” crossroads with Lou Trivino or Shawn Kelley throwing in the bullpen. What you can’t so easily mitigate against is the “quick strike” fly ball into the short porch in RF. I just think the Yankees’ lineup (leading the league in HRs) combined with the ballpark is the wrong matchup for a pitcher who will give up some HRs as part of his natural game.

Edwin Jackson

At this point, if I have to roll the dice with a SP I probably give the ball to Jackson and hope he has one more day of magic in his arm. The stuff is there and the 9 HR in 71.1 IP are acceptable. What scares me about Jackson is that he relies on getting batters to chase bad balls and is vulnerable to lineups that won’t chase. In this regard, though, the Yankees are not elite (in contrast to some recent Yankees teams) even if they can grind out at bats on a good day.

I wouldn’t go with Jackson more than once through the order, but seeking 2-3 IP out of him may be the best gamble.

All Relievers

Do the A’s have enough quality relievers now to just go 9 IP with the pen? That depends on who you trust in this game. If you count Yusmeiro Petit then you certainly do, but I would have to put Petit in the “Fiers” category of valuable pitchers who just are not right for this particular matchup. What does that leave? Something like maybe:

Kelley - 1
Buchter - 1
Rodney - 1
Familia - 2
Trivino - 2
Treinen - 2

It’s doable. You just have to hope that 6 guys are all able to bring their ‘A-game’ on the same day, which is inherently asking for trouble but is arguably more likely than asking one bad SP to do so.

WWND?

I know you wake up every morning guided throughout the day by the question, “What Would Nico Do?” Thinking it through at this exact moment, my inclination would be to approach the wild card in New York as follows:

Innings 1-3

Start Edwin Jackson with the hope of getting 2-3 IP out of him once through the order, finishing the 3rd with Shawn Kelley (and if there’s a bunch of runners on tell him he’s facing Altuve).

Innings 4-7

With Ryan Buchter available for a key left-on-left matchup anytime, plan on getting the rest of the 4 middle innings out of the group of Fernando Rodney (1), Jeurys Familia (1), and Lou Trivino (2).

Innings 8-9

The last 2 innings belong, of course, to Blake Treinen. If the 7th inning offers an especially high leverage moment you might even bring Treinen in to close out the 7th and get 7-8 outs, as it’s no ordinary game.

Are all these guys lock down guarantees not to undo everyone’s good work with one bad stretch? Nope. Is there flexibility to push the next guy up to clean up a mess before it’s too late? Probably. Familia can lose the strike zone but usually keeps the ball in the park. Rodney can be an adventure but Familia can come in to get a key DP. It lines up reasonably well.

Available to slot in as needed is the versatile, and basically very good, Petit. Petit also becomes a scary option: a guy you can turn the ball over to for 2-3 IP if the game goes extras. “Just don’t give up a season-ending walkoff HR, ok Yusmeiro?” Remember, it’s the 2018 A’s, so Oakland will probably lose the DH and Petit will wind up clubbing the game winning HR.

What do you think?

Poll

How Should The A’s Handle A WC Game In New York?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Start Cahill
    (54 votes)
  • 38%
    Start Fiers
    (264 votes)
  • 25%
    Start Jackson
    (173 votes)
  • 13%
    9-inning bullpen game
    (90 votes)
  • 14%
    Guys not mentioned in the article (e.g., Mengden, Hendriks, Anderson) should be involved
    (100 votes)
681 votes total Vote Now