For 2 days the A’s have looked anything like a team headed to the post-season, but in the marathon that is the 162-game campaign we don’t call this “the real 2019 Oakland A’s,” we call it a blip.
Make no mistake about it, even if challenging the Astros for the division proves to be too much of a stretch the A’s will be in the hunt for a wild card spot the rest of the way as they, a talented-but-flawed team, battle other talented-but-flawed teams. Expect a move in the next 4 days, be it a quiet under-the-radar enforcement (solid reliever?) or a bigger splash (mid-rotation SP?), as Oakland seizes an opportunity to push for the playoffs.
In other words, just the passage of time will make the A’s a much better team than the one that accidentally showed up these past 48 hours, while David Forst and Billy Beane will make the roster better, by Wednesday night, than it looks today.
Welcome to “The 47 Loss Club,” hardly an exclusive group. With a soft schedule the Indians are doing exactly what they should be doing: dominating and putting some distance between them and other wild card hopefuls. Cleveland has pulled away from the pack for the moment, with only 42 losses on the season. They are, in fact, breathing down the necks of the Minnesota Twins, losers of 40.
As for the second wild card spot, for all intents and purposes it is occupied by 3 teams who enter July 27th all losers of 47 games. Boston, Oakland, and Tampa Bay, listed in alphabetical order to emphasize that there is really no order to the standings right now, have played different numbers of games (especially if you include the A’s 0.7 of a game to be completed on September 6th).
So yesterday the A’s entered play technically in possession of the second wild card spot and today they arrive to the field technically looking up at Boston and Tampa Bay, but in the all important loss column these teams are in a virtual dead heat.
What to expect going forward? All 3 of these teams are good enough to get on a legitimate run, maybe pull off a 6-1 week or a 12-4 stretch. All 3 of these teams are also flawed enough to hit the skids and endure a 1-6 week or a 4-12 stretch. Perhaps the key is to get on at least one good run and keep your skid more pedestrian — one reason it would behoove the A’s to bounce back tonight rather than waiting until next week to get back on track.
A few wild card related notes as “The 47 Loss Club” embarks on the last 58-or-so games...
- I still see the wild card race currently as a 4-team race in which every team has a chance at the first wild card spot (and subsequently home field advantage). The Indians certainly have the upper hand but they have had a truly soft schedule that turns legitimate in August. 5 games in the loss column is a fair number, but hardly too much to overcome in 2+ months. Sweep one series while the Indians cool off a get swept, and suddenly you’re looking at a 2 loss deficit. I expect at least one of “The 47 Loss Club,” if not all 3, to make a strong run at Cleveland before it’s all said and done.
- The presumption that Cleveland is the wild card contender is, well, presumptuous. As far as the Indians are concerned, they are gunning for the AL Central crown hoping to render the Twins a wild card bridesmaid. In that scenario, for the first wild card the A’s, Red Sox, and Rays are chasing a team with not 5, but 7 fewer losses right now.
- If you want to pick up a game in the standings without playing, just have the tie-breaker in your back pocket. If the two wild card teams finish the season with the best record, the winner of the season series will be awarded the “#1” slot and will host the other. That’s huge.
The A’s come out pretty well with regard to tie breakers. Oakland has won the season series from the Indians (4-2), Twins (4-3), and Rays (4-3), coming up short only if they should tie with the Red Sox, who took 4 of 6 in the season series with the A’s.
I think if the A’s have a chance to pry a good cost-controlled SP, e.g., Mike Minor, Marcus Stroman, without giving up Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk, or Sean Murphy, they should take their shot. Alternatively, I really hope they are in on Tanner Roark, who will come cheap and is a reliable workhorse. Add a solid SP, and a good reliever — really just replacing 2019 Montas and 2018 Trivino — and this roster begins to look a whole lot better.
Keep August 9th in mind, as it is around when Sean Manaea is projected to return to the mound for the A’s. (That date would give Manaea 2 more AAA starts, and then proper rest, before joining Oakland.)
August 9th is just 2 weeks away. By this same date, the A’s might have called up Puk and might have Stephen Piscotty back in the lineup, and you might really see your “stretch drive roster” come together.
Add Minor or Stroman, or even Roark, to Fiers and Manaea, with Brett Anderson and Chris Bassitt (or Homer Bailey) rounding out the rotation, and you have a team more fully ready to compete.
Add Puk to the bullpen to complement Liam Hendriks, Joakim Soria, and Yusmeiro Petit, and your high leverage options look considerably brighter with or without a good outside addition.
Add Piscotty in RF and if Khris Davis just can’t regain his form you have the option of using Canha at DH.
The A’s called up Franklin Barreto with the promise that he would be getting the bulk of the playing time at 2B. Then he batted .122/.143/.293, swinging through fastballs in the zone, waving at sliders, taking strikes and swinging at balls, and lately he has been relegated to the bench despite the fact that the A’s have their last chance to “see what they have” before Barreto is out of options.
So enter Jurickson Profar, back in the lineup by default, still swinging for the fences for no apparent reason, trying to pull everything, swinging at every pitch 6” inside like Lucy Van Pelt is holding it for him, combining his aesthetically-challenge throws with a .207/.272/.387 slash line that matches the eye test, which says that his hitting approach is just plain bad. Meanwhile, Fangraphs believes Profar’s defense has saved the A’s exactly -9 runs.
Enough of playing one of these guys only because you want, even more, not to play the other. Another move I would like to see by the trading deadline, or by August 9th, is for the A’s to call up Corban Joseph (they would need to put him on the 40-man roster but that’s doable), who continues to lead the PCL in hitting (.374).
Joseph is a LH batter, he makes a ton of contact (11.4% K rate), he is batting .401 against RHP, and past scouting reports suggest he is roughly an average defensive 2Bman. What is he going to do, come up and bat .122? Come up and hit .207 with shaky defense? The bar is low to improve the status quo, and Joseph has strengths (LH, contact hitter, high BA) that happen to fit this lineup’s needs.
Joseph may not be “the answer” but Profar and Barreto are not the answer and it’s time to get creative, roll the dice a little, and see if Joseph can harness his inner “2018 Nick Martini”. Great performance should be rewarded, just as terrible performance (I’m looking at you, Jurickson and Franklin) should ultimately be met with pine.
47 losses, how many to go? Hopefully at least one fewer than the Red Sox and Rays. See you at 6:07pm on a fireworks night — with any luck, Homer Bailey will make sure the first explosion waits until after the game.