There comes a time where even the most optimistic fan realizes that things don’t look good for his or her favorite team. Oakland Athletics fans have realized that in the last month.
On August 10th, the A’s led the Angels by 4 games in the AL West. Right now, the A’s trail the Angels by 8 games. As Swingin’ A’s editor Jason Burke wrote a few days ago, it is looking all the more likely that should the A’s make the postseason, they will find themselves in the Wild Card game as opposed to winning the division. Taking the AL West would be wonderful, but with only 18 games remaining, A’s fans must start thinking about scenarios for a Wild Card game.
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The A’s currently hold the top spot in the Wild Card standings, leading Kansas City and Detroit by 1.5 games. Most likely, one of those teams will win the division and not be in the Wild Card picture at season’s end. Seattle trails each by half a game. I will only focus on these three teams as it is unlikely that any other team contends for a Wild Card spot (Toronto is next in the standings, trailing KC/DET by 4.5 games). Here’s a brief look at each of those three teams, and why I would or wouldn’t want to see the A’s play them.
Detroit Tigers (80-65, 5-2 vs. OAK)
Oof. The Tigers won the season series with the A’s decisively, splitting four games in Oakland May 26-29 then sweeping a three-game set June 30-July 2 in Detroit. I can’t imagine the A’s would like to play a one-game, winner-take-all against the team that has a penchant for eliminating them from the playoffs.
The Tigers lineup is lethal. They lead the league in batting average and OBP, and are second in the league in slugging percentage and runs scored. There isn’t an easy out top to bottom, and they are led by 2012 Triple Crown winner and back to back American League MVP Miguel Cabrera, who is as dangerous as ever. Furthermore, they can pick their poison of aces to send to the hill (should they decide to reshuffle their rotation), as they employ three Cy Young winners — Max Scherzer, David Price, and Justin Verlander.
Yes, the Tigers have one of the worst bullpens in baseball, but I don’t want to have to rely on the A’s driving up the pitch count of whoever manager Brad Ausmus tabs to start the game.
Seattle Mariners (79-65, 9-7 vs. OAK)
The Mariners hold the advantage over the A’s in the season series, but with three games left between the two clubs this season, the A’s could still come out on top. For whatever reason not named Felix Hernandez, the Mariners have always been a tough opponent for the A’s. Oakland always seems to struggle against what is an improved — but certainly not great — team.
The Mariners have one of the least impressive offenses in baseball. They rank 22nd in the MLB in batting average, 27th in OBP, 20th in slugging percentage, and 17th in runs scored. Before you get too excited and say, “Sign the Mariners up for the other Wild Card spot,” remember who would be on the mound.
King Felix has dominated the A’s. He is 4-0 in 5 starts vs. Oakland this year with a 2.15 ERA and a .98 WHIP. The A’s haven’t beaten him since September 27, 2013, in which Hernandez still had a quality start. For his career, Felix is 19-7 with a 2.58 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 8.5 strikeouts per 9 innings.
As bad as the Mariners’ offense is, I dread a date with King Felix in a one-game playoff.
Kansas City Royals (79-64, 5-2 vs. OAK)
The Royals have come down from their torrid stretch from July-August which saw them win 24 of 30 games, thrashing the A’s in the process. Despite that, I believe that of the three potential matchups, facing the Royals would be the best-case scenario for the A’s.
First, Kansas City’s lack of experience. The Royals haven’t been to the postseason in eons, and this is a young club. The lack of postseason experience, especially for key contributors such as Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, and Eric Hosmer, could end up costing Kansas City. The postseason is a different beast, and Royals players may not know how to manage their nerves. This would be the A’s third consecutive trip to the playoffs, so most of the players will have learned to stay cool under pressure (yes, most — I’m looking at you, Brandon Moss).
Secondly, while Detroit features a dynamite offense and a Cy Young winner on the mound, and Seattle features a bonafide A’s killer and the man who will probably win the AL Cy Young this year, Kansas City features a mediocre offense and a probable pitcher who has struggled in the postseason.
While Kansas City ranks 5th in the league in batting average, they rank only 20th in OBP, 21st in slugging percentage, and 16th in runs scored. Meanwhile, their ace, “Big Game James” Shields, isn’t as Big Game as one might think. In six postseason appearances spanning 34.1 innings, he is 2-4 with a 4.98 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP.
If the A’s are playing in the Wild Card game, and if I had my choice as a fan, I would hope to face the Royals over the Mariners or Tigers. Yes, Kansas City took 5 of 7 games from the A’s during the regular season, but as Oakland found out with Detroit last year, taking the regular season series didn’t help a whole lot in the playoffs.