It’s never too early to panic. Most practitioners recommend freaking out when your favorite team’s record is 0-0, so if you’re nervous after watching the A’s Monday and Tuesday night then you’re doing just fine.
The panic itself, however, is not warranted as there is a pretty simple explanation for why Oakland looked like they weren’t ready for prime time pitching or hitting. You have been hearing for a while about the “3 week summer camp” that will ramp teams up to the abbreviated 2020 season. The idea was for it to be short enough to get a season going, but just long enough to get teams “game ready”.
Now let’s look at those 3 weeks. It was, right off the top, not quite 3 weeks but actually 20 days. Camp was to begin on July 4th, with Opening Day on July 24th. But that’s only one measly little day. Trouble is, the brilliant and wholly competent (on Opposite Day) powers-that-be-at-MLB decided to start camp on a day its only testing center was closed. “You can’t start working out until you test negative — oh, and also you can’t test at all today. Or tomorrow, actually, because you know, Sunday. Who works on a Sunday?”
So it wasn’t until Monday, July 6th that test results were actually returned, meaning that not until Monday night could the A’s first hold a workout. The first real, full workouts were Tuesday, July 7th.
Then consider that the games you saw early this week were not scheduled for July 24th — the date “about 3 weeks after when the first workout was once supposed to be”. In fact, these games, played July 20th and 21st, occurred all of 2 weeks after the A’s were finally cleared to begin “summer camp”. 2 weeks.
To put it in perspective, the 2-week mark in spring training 1.0 was on March 7th. At that point, you expect Sean Manaea’s velocity to be a tick or two down from where it might be in his first regular season start. You anticipate that Mike Fiers’ command might be hit and miss. You are not surprised when Matt Olson is late on ordinary fastballs or if Khris Davis looks a bit lost with his timing.
The A’s didn’t look bad so much as they looked like a team only 14 days into camp, and that’s because they...were. For hitters, a huge key is timing and for pitchers a huge key is repeatability, and neither are fully present 2 weeks into live action — and for the A’s most of the live action the past 2 weeks has been in scrimmages and intersquad games.
Now you may well reply, “The Giants were in almost the same exact position” and you’d be right. My answer to that is to point out that the main effect of rust is that it levels the playing field: scrubs play like scrubs because they are, and stars play a lot like scrubs because they’re rusty.
So when two teams, one very talented and one very much rebuilding, square off too early, the result is going to relatively favor the rebuilding team. Especially when the contender faces 18 pitchers in 18 innings and isn’t in mid-season form to adjust.
I really wouldn’t read a thing into how flat the A’s hitters looked, or how middling the A’s pitchers were at times. It is probably entirely explained by the calendar and nothing else. As to whether Oakland will magically be ready for prime time on Friday, all I can offer is, “I hope so” — because prime time it is, game 1 of just 60 in a wild ride to come. Ready or not, here we come.