For the second year running, the Oakland Athletics have unlocked their full potential after looking dead in the water. Last season, basically the entire rotation’s collective arm fell off and then ace Sean Manaea went down with a shoulder injury, yet the A’s won a million games and easily took a wild-card spot. They got smoked in the wild-card round partially because they didn’t even feel confident enough to field a true starting pitcher against the Yankees.
For a while this season, it looked like they finally would have a starter for a high-stakes play-in game. One month ago, Frankie Montas was 9-2 with a 2.70 ERA and career-best numbers across the board. Then he got popped for doping and was suspended for the duration of the season. The A’s, then just four games above .500, seemed too thin to compete for another playoff berth.
Instead, they have been the hottest team in baseball over the past month. Since Montas was suspended, they’ve gone 14-5. They’ve won 11 of their last 13 and six on the trot. All of a sudden, they have the fifth-best run differential in baseball (one better than the division-leading Houston Astros) and they currently hold a wild-card spot.
If this sounds familiar, well, it is familiar. Almost exactly one year ago, the same thing happened, as the team’s core of young hitters solidified around one of the best bullpens of the past few decades, which turned out to be a potent enough combination to make up for a hilariously overmatched pitching staff. This season, it’s a different version of that same story. Khris Davis isn’t murdering baseballs with the same verve, but Matt Olson has stepped up. Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen aren’t consistent or scary right now, but Liam Hendriks has found his form. SABR rates three-quarters of the infield as the best defenders at their position in the AL.
Meanwhile, platinum glove winner Matt Chapman is still playing like a superstar. He has improved his already ridiculous defense this year, and he’s hitting with significantly more pop than he used to. Chapman’s all-star spot was well deserved, and he and Ramon Laureano are good for a defensive highlight or two almost every night and the team’s as fun to watch as ever and I am so horribly biased and I probably jinxed them into another hasty exit. Whatever!
The good news is, we’ll find out in the next week how good the A’s really are. They will kick off a four-game series in Minnesota tonight, then travel to Houston for three pivotal games against the Astros. Management already traded for starter Homer Bailey, who won his debut yesterday, and they’re reportedly hunting for another starter and bullpen arm for the stretch run. Does this mean the A’s are going to win the World Series? Probably, sure.