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Flurry Of Bullpen Meltdown Leaves “Good News/Bad News” Come Mid-May

Oakland Athletics v Detroit Tigers
Bubble wrap those thumbs, Lou.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Frustrating to think that if the A’s had only lost 3 of the 6 games that have gone south after holding leads late, they would be sitting 2 games over .500. Of course last year at this time the A’s were perfect in games they led after 7 innings, and that perfection would endure all the way into late September. They didn’t need this season to be magical, just not comically bad in this regard.

However, the cost of giving away a game a week for a month and a half is one that was likely going to be issued eventually: the A’s can pretty much kiss goodbye any realistic hopes of winning the AL West. Oakland’s chances of staying with the Houston Astros probably depended on either everything rolling right or the Astros being the ones who had to dig themselves out of a hole. No, a 9.5 game deficit with 116 to play is far from insurmountable, but combination of the on-paper talent gap and about 10 games is a daunting challenge indeed.

There is good news, though, amidst the frustration of game after game that has slipped away. Let’s take a look at the wild card picture on May 18th and realize that in 2019 there do not appear to be 5 great teams in the American League.

It’s unlikely the Astros and Yankees are going anywhere, and the Rays have, to this point, been a consistently excellent team. Time will tell about the Minnesota Twins but here’s the thing: the A’s don’t have to worry about the division winners in the Central or East. They are competing only to be better than the “best of the rest” in each division.

What this means is that if one wild card comes out of the east, in order to make the post-season Oakland would only need to be better than:

- The worse team between Minnesota and Cleveland
- The 3rd place team in the AL East (currently the Red Sox)
- The rest of the AL West

Finishing in 2nd place in the AL West is far from fetched, as the A’s stand today all of 1 game back of the 21-23 Angels. If what it takes to reach the post-season means passing Texas, Seattle, and LAA, color me unfrightened. That’s 3 very flawed teams whose sub-.500 records look about right.

Passing the lesser of the Indians and Twins seems perfectly doable. The Indians are currently 3 games over .500 (23-20), and while still a decent club they are not the Indians who waltzed to division titles as the clear cream of the Central crop. The Twins (29-15) are interesting, but if they wind up being the A’s wild card competition it means Minnesota fell from grace and could not maintain its hot start. We call that “sinking like a Mariner”.

Realistically, when the dust clears with the cream rising and the sludge falling, most likely the A’s biggest competition will come from the East. It’s perfectly possible both wild card teams could come from the East and that if the teams don’t switch places Oakland will battle for the wild card with the Red Sox.

The Red Sox have righted the ship following a dismal 6-12 start and stand at 23-21. However, in contrast to last year’s 108 win juggernaut this appears to be a dangerous team more than a great one.

Bottom line? To be relevant in the post-season picture, the A’s need to be better than the 2nd place team in the Central (currently Cleveland), the 3rd place team in the East (currently Boston), and the rest of the AL West (currently mediocre across the board). With 116 games left, it feels like Oakland is very much in the conversation.

That all being said, all this analysis counts for zilch if the A’s can’t prove to be a good team in its own right. At the moment, they aren’t chasing any Indians, Red Sox, or Angels — they are chasing the .500 mark. Nothing happens until you get to .500 and it is at best chutzpah, and at worst bad karma, to consider contention when you have lost more often than you have won.

All I’m saying, on May 18th, is that despite a flurry of losses that feel like a rat-tat-tat of six bullet holes to the gut, make no mistake that the A’s are still playing for October if only thanks in part to the precious few “haves” in 2019’s American League. It’s not just that the A’s stand, today, all of 3.5 games out of a wild card spot, it’s that the teams they’re looking up at don’t inspire great fear. Summer may yet be meaningful.

And that’s your dose of cautious optimism for today.