This wasn’t supposed to happen. The Astros were the reigning World Series champions, the Mariners were considered a real contender. The A’s, meanwhile, were “rebuilding.” They weren’t supposed to be good even when they had a Major League–caliber pitching rotation, and then projected Opening Day starter Jharel Cotton was lost for the season for Tommy John surgery before spring training had ended. Twenty games into the season, when new ace Sean Manaea threw a no-hitter against the Red Sox, I (a giant A’s homer) called him a “rare bright spot on an otherwise-mediocre A’s squad.” And then Oakland saw nine other pitchers miss significant time to injuries—most recently Manaea, who may sit out all of 2019 too. Rebuilding teams are not supposed to make the playoffs at all, but certainly not when they lose damn near two full rotations over the course of a season.
And yet, the A’s are officially in the playoffs for the first time in four years. They didn’t need to win last night—they had clinched earlier in the evening when the Yankees beat the Rays—but they did it anyway, beating the rival Mariners 7-3. Oakland had four dingers in the game, bringing them to 218 on the year, the third-best total in baseball.
One of those dingers came from Khris Davis, who is all but guaranteed to finish the season with more than anyone else—he’s at 46; J.D. Martinez is second with 41. Davis has hit multiple homers in seven different games; he’s had six game-winners; he has 120 RBI (second to Martinez). Without anyone outside of the Bay Area really noticing, he became the best home run hitter in the league over the past three years. “MVP” chants are now routine when Davis comes to the plate—they were audible last night in Seattle, of all places. After Davis hit a walk-off over the weekend, manager Bob Melvin joked that he’s been joining the chants from the dugout.
To be clear, Khrush Davis is not going to be the American League MVP this year. Mike Trout is the best player of his generation, Mookie Betts’s WAR is an absurd 10.7, Martinez is having the season of his life. By most statistical measures, Davis isn’t even the MVP of his own team—Matt Chapman is ranked third in MLB in WAR, while Davis is 33rd in the AL. But I certainly can’t think of a player who has done as much as Davis to lead a team no one expected to be in the playoffs. Sure, it’d be nice to have a healthy starter for a one-game playoff against the Yankees, but even with that off the table, betting against any team that has Davis batting cleanup seems increasingly ill-advised.
Correction: Due to a mislabeled photo and some goggles-and-champagne-induced face blindness, the photo originally at the top of this post misidentified Frankie Montas as Khris Davis.