The Oakland A’s are going to the 2020 postseason. That much is for sure. Most likely, they’ll do it as the AL West division winner, and at the moment it looks like they’ll be the No. 3 seed — definitely not lower than that, maybe not higher.
There are nine games left in the regular season, before the Wild Card Round begins Sept. 29. The A’s could have the division wrapped up by the end of this weekend, and it would be surprising if they didn’t. They don’t even have to win another game, just wait for two losses by the Houston Astros.
With that in mind, what exactly is Oakland playing for over the next week-plus? It’s not to clinch, which is already effectively done. And it’s not for maximum playoff seeding — personally I’d rather not move up from the No. 3 seed. Right now they’re lined up to play the Astros, whom they’ve beaten seven times out of 10, and more importantly have played against 10 times at all. I’ll take the familiar rival we know can be beaten, especially with no October surprise coming now that a Justin Verlander return has been ruled out, rather than facing a novel opponent we haven’t seen all year like the Indians or Blue Jays (much less the Twins or Yankees, if they fall to third place).
We’ve reached a point where winning literally doesn’t matter, and might actually be counterproductive. You don’t want the players to get rusty or lose their edge, but you also don’t need to maximize every matchup and margin the rest of the way. You can work on what you want to work on, and do it on your terms, kind of like spring training. The results don’t matter anymore, just the preparation and health.
One obvious goal for this period is to set up the starting rotation in whatever optimal way you desire, as Nico began considering this morning. Another is to rest some of the everyday players, especially after the insane September schedule they’ve been through — 16 games in 13 days, including three doubleheaders, one of which came in absurdly unhealthy levels of smoke right before traveling to Colorado where oxygen is illegal. Another break here or there wouldn’t hurt.
Beyond all that routine housework, though, there’s still one major opportunity left on this roster. Khris Davis was one of the best hitters on the team as recently as 2018, and one of the best home run sluggers in MLB history, but early last summer he fell off a cliff and never rose back up. What if you could get him going again for the playoffs, at something even remotely approaching his former peak?
This isn’t purely theoretical, as Davis has indeed shown signs this month. He started five of the team’s 13 games in September so far, with small-sample success.
Davis, Sept: 5-for-15, 1 HR, 2 doubles, 3 BB, 6 Ks
His xwOBA during that time is .403, even with his share of strikeouts to drag it down. Each of the three extra-base hits was a blast at 103 mph or harder.
Does that mean Davis is back? Of course not. It’s just a few games, and it’ll take longer than that to erase two years of slumping. But it’s something, a thread worth pulling, an unlocked door worth exploring.
What would it cost to start Davis at DH every day for the rest of the regular season? Give every regular player one day off next week? Let Stephen Piscotty keep resting his sore knee (he’s already back in the lineup Saturday for some reason)? These are logical things that should be happening anyway, not sacrifices that would need to be made.
And what might be the downside? Maybe Davis tanks again, and you get some 0-fers in the seventh spot in the lineup, and at worst you lose another couple games? And are “penalized” for those losses by retaining the most favorable possible playoff seeding matchup, at No. 3 against the Astros, instead of rising up the standings and facing Shane Bieber or Gerrit Cole in a short series?
And finally, what’s the potential reward? A hot Khris Davis. Even if it’s not Full 2018 Khrush, some extra dingers out of the DH spot would be a huge boon in any postseason series. It’s not that they can’t score without him, but they’d be even better if they had him producing. He’s a hitter who can win entire games on his own when he’s at his best, and we’ve seen him go yard in the postseason before (2018 Wild Card Game).
So, why not? We already know what everyone else in the A’s lineup can do, and we don’t particularly care about the results of next week’s games. The only piece of new, useful information to be learned involves Davis. Let’s investigate it, and see if we can collect a substantial reward in October.
Free Khris Davis for the rest of the regular season!