The Oakland Athletics had higher hopes for this point in the season than to be sitting in last place with a 29-40 record. Nobody in the front office expected key acquisitions Ike Davis or Ben Zobrist to spend as much time on the disabled list as they have, and it is impossible to predict rehab setbacks like those suffered by pitchers Jarrod Parker and Sean Doolittle.
Despite the early injury woes, Davis is likely to be reinstated during the next homestand, A.J. Griffin has looked (mostly) solid during his rehab starts at Triple-A Nashville, Ben Zobrist looks comfortable running again, and rookie starter Kendall Graveman is finally returning to the form the A’s saw in Spring Training. The A’s bullpen is also eager to see the return of Edward Mujica, who has thrown 5.1 scoreless innings in five appearances with Oakland this season after struggling with the Boston Red Sox. When the team comes together as Billy Beane imagined it, A’s fans should not write off the 2015 season just yet.
Here are a couple of numbers that A’s fans know well: 23, which is the number of games the A’s have played that were decided by one run, and five, which is the number of those games that they have won. That leaves 18 games where the A’s were one swing away from tying the game, and two swings away from taking the lead. That is 18 games decided by one regrettable pitch. That is 18 games decided by one well-placed defender on the opposing team, or one defensive miscue by the A’s. That is 18 games that the Athletics desperately wished their best relievers were not on the disabled list.
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As of Thursday morning, Baseball-Reference supported the fact that these one-run games are a big deal. Their Simple Rating System, which ranks teams based on run differential and strength of schedule, shows that the Athletics are the fifth strongest team in the American League, and should be sitting on a record of 38-30. It looks like they also think it is strange that the team holding the AL’s second worst record has the league’s third best run differential (currently +36).
The Toronto Blue Jays’ recent resurgence is an example of why the A’s should not give up hope yet. If not for the weakness of the AL-East, their 23-30 record from two weeks ago would have seemed like a difficult hole to climb out of. Alternatively, the Houston Astros looked unbeatable two weeks ago. Be that as it may, both under-performing and over-performing teams revert to the mean. An 11-game winning streak put the Blue Jays just two games out of first place in the East, and the Astros currently look more beatable than they have all season.
The A’s obviously did not want to have to rely on lengthy winning streaks in June to put them back into contention. However, the pieces are coming together. The team will be full-strength before the All-Star Break, which gives them enough time to string a few winning streaks together to put them back into the wildcard discussion. The numbers say that they can do it. The A’s just need to get into the win column by getting that out and scoring that run when it matters most.