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Fans are moderately worried about Oakland A’s slow start

The recent 1-8 road trip has fan confidence on the sharp decline.

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to SB Nation FanPulse, a survey of fans across MLB. Each week, we send 30 polls to plugged in fans from each team. A’s fans, click HERE to learn more and join FanPulse.

A’s fans were asked last week if they’re worried about the team’s slow start to the season, and the result was a resounding “yeah, kinda.”

Voters were offered three options:

  • Little to none; they’ll adjust and heat up eventually
  • Moderately; hope isn’t lost but it’s dwindling
  • Extremely; roster’s critical flaws are being exposed

The results:

  • Little to none: 14.29%
  • Moderately: 54.76%
  • Extremely: 30.95%

It’s not surprising to see fans starting to get worried. When this survey was sent out, the A’s had just completed a disastrous road trip that saw them drop eight of nine games while also losing stars Khris Davis and Blake Treinen to minor injuries. That put them at 15-21 for the season, dead last in the AL West division — a far cry from expectations of postseason contention.

However, there’s been some good news since then. The team returned to Oakland and won their next series against the Reds, and along the way Mike Fiers threw a no-hitter and Matt Olson got back into the lineup after missing more than a month. Even better, Treinen returned to action and Khrush got a few at-bats too, allaying concern about their long-term health. They’re still below .500 at 17-22, and they’re still in the cellar, but at least last week’s downward spiral has stopped for now.

Personally, I voted for “Little to none,” because good A’s teams often start slow before heating up in June and beyond. The last few Oakland playoff teams, through 40 games and also through the end of May:

Year: (40 G) | (End May)
2018: 19-21 | 29-28
2014: 25-15 | 34-22
2013: 20-20 | 32-24
2012: 20-20 | 22-29
2006: 21-19 | 24-29

This isn’t to say that starting slow is a good thing, just that it’s in no way a dealbreaker in terms of postseason hopes. In two of the seasons listed above, the A’s were in their current hole of at least five games under .500 even at the end of May, and those teams went on win over 90 games apiece. On the other hand, the main outlier above is 2014, and that year Oakland collapsed late, failed to win 90, and only barely held on to their postseason spot, showing that a hot start doesn’t guarantee you anything either.

Look back further and you see more of the same. The 2001 A’s began 2-10 and didn’t get back to .500 until 22-22 before going on to win 102 games, and the 2002 squad was still below .500 as late as June 6 before finding themselves and getting historically hot for a 103-win campaign.

After enough trials, it’s easy to see a pattern emerging. The A’s use these first couple months to try things out and analyze what they have, then they adjust by cutting out what’s not working and making some key replacements until they find the right mix for success. The September lineups sometimes bear only a passing resemblance to the April versions.

Of course, many other years have seen the A’s start slow and then never recover, so the doubters aren’t wrong either. This doesn’t have to turn around. It just has many times before after similarly shaky starts. In other words, a mediocre showing through 40 games tells us basically nothing about how the rest of the season will go.

There are still plenty of reasons for hope, especially with the lineup. They’re averaging only 3.75 runs over their last 20 games, after ranking fourth in MLB last year at over five runs per contest, and that’s been a huge factor in the current slump. Between the return of Olson, and several top prospects looking strong in Triple-A, the offense is unlikely to stay down like this for long.

As for the pitching, the rotation is beginning to show signs of adequacy and still has depth to spare. The bullpen has struggled, but the two late-inning aces are both healthy and thriving again and the reliever volatility pendulum can always swing back in Oakland’s favor at any time just as it swung away these past several weeks. There’s not a lot of margin for error in either department, but there’s enough to get by if/when the club’s hitting improves.

We’ll learn a lot more about this 2019 squad in the coming weeks. Those who are already worried are perfectly justified in being so, and indeed these early losses count in the standings just the same. But the next 123 games count too, and history is clear that the A’s have no problem recovering from a shaky April. If you believe in the core talent on this roster, then my advice is to keep the fAith and see how they respond in June.

“It’s baseball, you’re going to struggle from time to time,” said Davis, via Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. “But having been through that before does give us hope. I don’t sense panic in here. We’re just going through a slump.”

The other weekly polls really drove home the panic that’s hitting the fan base. Confidence in manager Bob Melvin dipped below 90% for the first time, and confidence in the team’s overall direction plummeted from the 80s down to the 50s.

  • Manager approval: 85%
  • Confidence in direction of team: 51%

In order to reverse those trends, the A’s will need to get back on track sooner than later. To that end, they’ll welcome the Indians to town next for three games this weekend, and look to build on their series win against the Reds.

Oakland isn’t the only team off to an interesting start in 2019. The defending champion Red Sox only just got up to .500 at 19-19, while on the other end of the spectrum the Rays and Twins are each in first place and the D’Backs and Mariners have been more competitive than expected. This week’s national poll addressed that group, with the Rays being the surprise contender that fans most believe in by a wide margin.