The Oakland Athletics are better equipped to make a deep playoff run

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 20: Matt Chapman #26 of the Oakland Athletics is congratulated by teammates after he hit a walk-off home run to beat the Tampa Bay Rays at Ring Central Coliseum on June 20, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 20: Matt Chapman #26 of the Oakland Athletics is congratulated by teammates after he hit a walk-off home run to beat the Tampa Bay Rays at Ring Central Coliseum on June 20, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The Oakland Athletics are heading into the second half of the 2019 season at 50-41, 1.5 games back of the Cleveland Indians for the second Wild Card spot. Can they make another playoff run in the final 71 games?

On June 19, 2018, the Oakland Athletics were 36-36, on their way to another lackluster season and down to their final strike in San Diego when Stephen Piscotty tied the game with a two-run homer off Brad Hand. Jed Lowrie would win the game with another home run in the 10th, the A’s went on to win the game 4-2, and the comeback win sparked a 61-29 run to close the 2018 season.

Almost exactly one year later on June 20, 2019, the A’s, at 39-36 and struggling to stay in the playoff race, see Matt Chapman hit a walk-off, three-run shot with two outs in the ninth to give them a miraculous win, and use it to spark a 10-5 run to put themselves right in the thick of the AL Wild Card race heading into the All-Star break.

Almost exactly a year apart, two scuffling teams with almost the same exact core begin their run to the postseason with show-stopping wins. Will this year’s run lead them back to the postseason?

As a whole, this team has been one of the best in baseball in 2019. In the first 91 games, the A’s have the sixth-best run differential (plus-67), are sixth in home runs (145) and strike out at the 27th-lowest rate (712). They are seventh in team ERA (4.06), have the sixth-lowest WHIP (1.26), the sixth-worst batting average allowed (.241) and have given up the fourth-fewest home runs (104).

If you take away their two sweeps at the hands of the 34-57 Toronto Blue Jays, the A’s would be sitting pretty at the top of the AL Wild Card standings, but regardless they are right where they need to be at only 1.5 games back of the Indians for the second spot.

The team has the same cast of characters on offense, with everyone having taken a step forward. Matt Chapman has developed into one of the three best third basemen in MLB, Marcus Semien is third among shortstops in WAR, Ramon Laureano has more than tripled last year’s power numbers already and Matt Olson has come back from injury with MORE pop.

The starting pitching is yet again held together by tape and glue and a run of 10 straight quality starts from Mike Fiers, starting with his no-hitter on May 7.

The bullpen has regressed, but Liam Hendricks, Blake Treinen and Wei-Chung Wang have done enough to hold them in playoff position.

The biggest difference between last year and this year, and the reason I think this team has the best chance of any Oakland Athletics teams in recent memory to make a playoff run: They have serious playoff disappointment under their belt. Aside from Fernando Rodney and Jeurys Familia, last year’s roster had virtually no experience in the postseason and it showed. Even a single game will bring them a greater sense of calm this fall.

The other issue of last year’s team – one that has rolled over into this year’s squad – is the lack of a reliable starter. Bob Melvin elected to go with Liam Hendricks as an opener in the 2018 Wild Card Game, and the Aussie lasted one inning and allowed a 2-0 hole two batters in. Lou Trivino had to go three innings, and the A’s were all of a sudden down two of their four best relievers with still five innings to go in a playoff game.

Frankie Montas was supposed to be that guy, but he will miss most of the rest of the regular season and will not be eligible for the playoffs for a PED violation. Mike Fiers has been great again for Oakland but was passed over in the WC Game for a reason. Maybe Sean Manaea or Jesus Luzardo will make their way to the main roster by August and make enough of an impression on Bob Melvin to put them in the Sonny Gray role?

At this point, the Oakland Athletics don’t have a guy to throw out there in a WC Game, or a game five in the ALDS, or a Game 6, down 3-2 in the series, in the ALCS or World Series.

That’s why I Billy Beane and David Forst will make a move for Marcus Stroman or another starter to lean on in a big playoff game, the same way they did for Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija in 2014.

Maybe they have enough to swing for even a Madison Bumgarner – would giving up A.J. Puk, Jorge Mateo and another prospect with a current big leaguer be enough for the best postseason starting pitcher on the market in a long time – to go along with the bullpen arms that they are sure to take a hack at.

Since Matt Olson came back on May 7, the Green and Gold are 35-20. They have made it clear that with a clean bill of health, this team can compete with any in baseball. Chapman, Olson, Davis, Laureano, Semien, Piscotty and the bunch will keep them in any game, and the bullpen should be good enough at the end of the season. With a go-to postseason arm (what Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas were supposed to be) the Oakland Athletics have a great chance to make a deep postseason run.