The Oakland A’s are headed to October for the second straight year.
Even before they began their own game in Seattle on Friday night, the A’s clinched a Wild Card berth thanks to a loss by the Indians. Oakland’s magic number over Cleveland had been one entering the day, so the Tribe’s defeat was enough to seal it for the green and gold.
Furthermore, the Rays also won their game on Friday, meaning that they clinched their spot as well and Cleveland has been eliminated completely from postseason contention. The Wild Card Game on Wednesday will be between the A’s and the Rays, and the only question is which Bay Area it will be played in.
Oakland ended up losing their game to the Mariners, which means they’re now tied with the Rays in the standings. However, the A’s hold the tiebreaker because they won the head-to-head season series against Tampa Bay, so the Rays would have to finish ahead by a game in order to host the Wild Card play-in. Oakland’s magic number is therefore two (with two more left to play) in order for that game to be at the Coliseum.
The 2018 A’s shocked the sport when they made the postseason. They entered the year as a trendy pick for last place and instead won 97 games, thanks to a laundry list of breakout success stories and best-case scenarios.
By contrast, the 2019 A’s entered the year with higher hopes. They weren’t a lock to return to October, but they weren’t sneaking up on anyone either. And yet still, you have to marvel at how they got it done.
So many things went wrong this year. The historically dominant All-Star closer simply disappeared, as did the unhittable setup man. The best and most consistent home run hitter in the game just stopped hitting. Their All-Star second baseman left as a free agent, and his replacement was a total flop for most of the year. An ace starter emerged but then got suspended for PEDs, and the rotation’s second-biggest offseason free agent addition made only five starts before getting hurt. The big bullpen signing also struggled. The budding superstar first baseman missed the first month to injury, and his emergency sub didn’t hit a lick.
Despite all that, they made it work. A new closer and setup man stepped up. The lineup still managed to set a franchise record for homers. The thin rotation stayed healthy and held serve all year. The three incumbent infield stars stayed awesome, and the least-heralded of the trio rose to an MVP level. And the team won another 96 games — so far, with two more days left to match last year’s total.
The result isn’t a huge surprise, but the journey to get there wasn’t what anyone expected.
This will be the third time in the last six years that Oakland has taken part in the Wild Card Game. Unfortunately, the first two stand as bad memories.
In 2014 the A’s lost one of the most thrilling, heartbreaking affairs in MLB playoff history, falling to the Royals in 12 innings. Then last year, in 2018, they played the Yankees, fell behind early, and never really climbed back into it.
Now they’ll get another crack at the one-game play-in, for a chance to advance to the ALDS and face the mighty Houston Astros in a best-of-five series. This time they might have an extra advantage in their pocket, as there’s a good chance they could earn home-field for the Wild Card Game and play it in Oakland, after their last two attempts came on the road.
No matter what happens on Wednesday, though, this is the 10th time in the last 20 seasons that they’ve made the playoffs. We’re at a point where just getting there isn’t enough, and we want to see our team make a deep run and win a title, but it’s still worth taking a moment to appreciate how consistently the A’s participate in October. Now they’re back in it again, with a new chance to bring home a ring.
The A’s lost their game on Friday, but they still deserved a celebration for the six-month achievement of reaching the postseason. The goal of a season is to reach October, not do so with an undefeated record, and it would be preposterous to pretend like they didn’t just lock up an incredible success simply because it happened to come on a day when they didn’t win that particular game. And while that loss wasn’t meaningless because home-field is still on the line, that distinction pales in comparison to making the playoffs at all — there are 20 other teams who would LOVE to play on the road next Wednesday.
The A’s did months of amazing work and won 60% of their games. Don’t begrudge them their moment of enjoyment just because the setup wasn’t quite as perfect as you hoped. This was for the amazing 96 wins that came before.
Manager Bob Melvin offers his wise words.
Welcome to OAKTOBER!