Aug 15, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Oakland Athletics managerBob Melvin
(6) prepares for a game against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
The absolute worst-case scenario for the Oakland Athletics would be to miss the playoffs. Maybe I am blinded by optimism, but I just don’t see that happening. They currently have a 98.9% chance of making the postseason. However, the plausible worst-case scenario for the A’s is that they are relegated to the *gasp* Wild Card game.
With the Angels tying up the AL West last night, and holding a slight edge in winning percentage, the A’s are no longer in sole possession of first place. This technically slots them into the first Wild Card spot for the time being. The Seattle Mariners are 3rd in the race, but are 6.5 games behind the A’s. It’s much more realistic for them to take over the second spot from the Royals or Tigers, whomever decides to not be leading the AL Central that day.
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Say the Angels win the division. This almost guarantees that they have the best record in baseball, so let’s also give them the #1 seed.
The A’s will be facing either Detroit, Kansas City or Seattle in that case, and be played in Oakland. For the sake of argument, let’s also assume that Detroit snaps out of their funk and wins the Central.
I seem to remember the A’s acquiring some sort of ace for situations like these. Oh yeah, Jon Lester. While the Wild Card would not be an ideal situation for the Athletics, having Jon Lester pitching for the green and gold significantly improves the odds. I say bring it on.
Let’s start with the Royals. Yes, they just handed it to the Athletics, but they’re also extremely hot right now. They do that from time to time. They won’t be that hot in October, and even if they are, the A’s will be able to match up their starters. Last series saw Lester take on Jeremy Guthrie. That won’t be happening again.
Say the A’s get pitted against James Shields. “Big Game” James as he’s known has a 4.98 ERA career in the playoffs. Most recently in 2011, he pitched 5 innings, giving up 8 hits and 7 runs to the tune of a 12.60 ERA against Texas. In 2011, his regular season ERA was actually better (2.82) than it is this season (3.29). In that game, he allowed no walks, so his control was there, he just got hit–hard. I like the A’s chances here.
Even if they are slotted against Felix Hernandez, the A’s would be the favorites. The King has never pitched in the postseason. Perhaps he’s a little anxious. That’s speculation though. Let’s go with some facts. On September 7th, 2012 the A’s went to Seattle for a series. The starter to open that series? Felix. Contrary to popular belief, the A’s can rough him up. In that game Hernandez went just 4-2/3 innings, allowing 11 hits and 6 runs (5 earned).
Last season, on September 27th, Felix pitched against the A’s again, also in Seattle. This time around, he was better, going 6 innings, allowing 3 earned on 5 hits. The important stat though? He collected the loss.
There could be a trend here. Felix is not used to pitching late, and may not be conditioned to do so. Yes, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game, but the Braves had 3 of them in the 90s, and only collected one Championship. Sometimes pitchers just don’t have it late in the season.
One pitcher that does have it is Jon Lester.
Let’s continue down this scenario. The A’s have beaten their opponent in the Wild Card game, and now have to face the Angels. In game 1 they’ll throw out Cy Young candidate Garrett Richards (2.53 ERA). With Jon Lester unavailable, the A’s will have to go with one of their other 3 plan A’s. With Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija and Scott Kazmir, the Athletics have options, and quality ones.
I could continue, but I hope you see the point. Winning the division (which is completely possible) is nice, but making the postseason is what matters. This team has the parts to go deep into the postseason, no matter how they get there.