The Oakland A’s were supposed to contend for the AL West crown in 2020, and they’ve done just that. In fact, they’ve got a comfortable lead in the division and are close to clinching it already, with more than a week to go in the season.
However, every year brings its share of twists and turns. Even if the result turns out something like you’d hoped or expected, the journey to get there may not be what you would have guessed.
For example, what if I told you on Opening Day that Matt Chapman would miss nearly half the season? Or that Matt Olson would bat .191, Marcus Semien would post a below-average wRC+ (95), and Khris Davis would hit only two homers? Or that A.J. Puk wouldn’t pitch, Frankie Montas would struggle, and only one member of the rotation (Chris Bassitt) would have an ERA below 4.30? How confident would you have been?
No matter, though, because other stuff went right. Other hitters broke out to pick up the slack, Olson has still been productive in other areas, and the bullpen has been surprisingly dominant all summer long. And, most recently, the midseason reinforcements have stepped up in a big way.
When the A’s contend, they usually bring in some help during the year. They’ll upgrade a weak spot at the trade deadline, or add depth to a thin area, or whatever they can to maximize the opportunity in front of them. This year that meant three moves:
- Acquiring 2B Tommy La Stella from the Angels, to improve their weakest position and add an OBP/contact bat to their power/strikeout lineup
- Acquiring LHP Mike Minor from the Rangers, to add a veteran arm to the staff and buy low on some bounce-back potential
- Signing 3B Jake Lamb after he was cut by the D’Backs, to help replace the injured Chapman
All three players have been All-Stars before. La Stella and Minor made it last year, and Lamb in 2017. However, whereas La Stella was still playing well this summer, Minor and Lamb were struggling, making Minor a buy-low gamble and explaining why Lamb was available as a free agent. Now all three are heating up.
Tommy La Stella
Through 18 games, La Stella is doing exactly what he was supposed to do. He’s getting on base, with a .377 OBP that’s helping set the table at the top of the lineup. He’s making contact, with only one strikeout so far in 77 plate appearances. And that contact is helping him come through in clutch spots — in 17 tries with runners in scoring position, he has five hits, a walk, and a sac fly, and his .333 average w/RISP is one of the best marks on the team. Six times he’s had a runner on third with less than two outs, and five times La Stella drove him home.
La Stella, OAK: .309/.377/.412, 123 wRC+, 1 HR, 9.1% BB, 1.3% Ks
That strikeout rate looks like a typo, but it’s real. Add in some defensive versatility between 2B and 3B, and he’s become one of the most important players on the team right now.
The pickup of Minor was panned by many A’s fans due to his 2020 struggles and his declined velocity, and he didn’t help his case by getting knocked around in his first two appearances in green and gold. But the veteran lefty began to prove himself last weekend, making a start in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Mariners. He went the distance in the seven-inning game, earning just the second shutout of his career.
Minor, Sat 9/14: 7 ip, 0 runs, 8 Ks, 2 BB, 2 hits, 102 pitches (65 strikes)
The performance was especially valuable because of its timeliness, coming in the back half of a twin-bill, amid a stretch of 16 games in 13 days, with another doubleheader scheduled two days later. There are few better moments to save your bullpen than that one, and Minor let Oakland do that.
Will he continue to thrive? Will he even continue to start? That remains to be seen, but he certainly made a positive contribution to this division race.
After his All-Star berth in 2017, Lamb fell off the map. He endured some injuries in 2018-19, and when healthy he didn’t produce at all, despite continuing to make contact and hit the ball hard. Finally, after batting .116 for the D’Backs this summer, they designated him for assignment and he washed up on Oakland’s shores as an emergency measure after the loss of Chapman. It took Lamb only three days to not only match but exceed his numbers from Arizona.
- Lamb, ARZ: 5-for-43, 14 wRC+, 0 HR, 1 double, 1 RBI, 2 runs
- Lamb, OAK: 5-for-11, 278 wRC+, 1 HR, 2 doubles, 2 RBI, 3 runs
He had another RBI single on Friday, so his four-game total now reads 6-for-15 with 3 RBI. The run he drove in with that hit was the first of the day and the A’s went on to throw a shutout, so technically he was responsible the eventual go-ahead, game-winning run.
It took 18 games and 50 plate appearances to collect five hits in the desert, but since arriving in the Bay he did it in just three games and a dozen trips to the plate. He already has three times as many extra-base hits, too. And some of it really made a difference, like his RBI in the A’s tight 3-1 win on Wednesday, or the aforementioned RBI to open Friday’s victory.
Baseball always throws its share of curveballs at you, but seeing a contending 2020 A’s lineup led to glory by La Stella and Lamb has got to be one of the more unexpected ways this could have played out. Hopefully they can keep it up for nine more games, and then another 13 wins in the postseason.