Oakland A’s: Winning in the playoffs can’t be dependent on high run totals

Seth Carlson
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Marcus Semien #10 and Sean Murphy #12 of the Oakland Athletics celebrates after Semien hit a two-run home run against the Chicago White Sox during the second inning of Game Two of the American League Wild Card Round at RingCentral Coliseum on September 30, 2020 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Marcus Semien #10 and Sean Murphy #12 of the Oakland Athletics celebrates after Semien hit a two-run home run against the Chicago White Sox during the second inning of Game Two of the American League Wild Card Round at RingCentral Coliseum on September 30, 2020 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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The Oakland A’s defeated the Astros in a slugfest game three of the ALDS. Can they continue to ride their hot hitting to a series win and more?

Game three of the ALDS between the Oakland A’s and Houston Astros was a wild one.

The contest featured four lead changes and five home runs for the green and gold, providing constant back and forth excitement somewhat atypical of a postseason game, which usually consists of higher quality pitching matchups.

Oakland would win the game 9-7 to keep their season alive and force a game four, staving off elimination for at least one more day.

Chad Pinder‘s game tying home run in the seventh inning to complete the A’s infield home run quadfecta and Liam Hendriks‘ dominant long relief over the last three innings of the game proved to be the difference in ensuring an Oakland victory.

The A’s are rightfully flying high after a roller-coaster afternoon with lots of offensive fireworks. There’s no questioning the potency of this lineup after their display on Wednesday.

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However, Oakland cannot afford to become complacent with their hot bats. They can’t just expect their lineup to produce high run totals in every game. This is the postseason, after all, where the quality of competition is heightened beyond normal circumstances.

Not only will opponents in the playoffs typically boast higher caliber pitching, but they’re also able to field lineups with similar levels of explosivity to that of the A’s. Just look at game one of this series, in which the Astros lineup hung 10 runs.

Asking your lineup to erase a 10 run deficit is a steep job for one game, let alone having to do so in every game.  In fact, the Astros haven’t scored less than five runs in any of the first three games of this ALDS. Even in their loss today, Houston scored seven runs to keep pace with Oakland’s high powered aerial attack for most of the afternoon.

The Astros are clearly built to win slugfests. Their lineup is filled to the brim with talent, trash-can banging aside. However, Houston really has a two games to one series lead because of their ability to benefit from some timely pitching.

It’s not that the A’s aren’t equally constructed to win such slugfests like the one they clinched on Wednesday, but they have not consistently received that same timely pitching which can often determine the outcome of a game. Instead, they’ve allowed the Astros to tie or take the lead in many instances.

At some point during these playoffs, Oakland will need to muster up the pitching to prevent further letdowns, particularly on the starting pitching end. They didn’t receive good performances from Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea or Jesus Luzardo through the first three games of this series, leaving their normally effective bullpen to handle multiple innings worth of mop-up work.

That can be quite taxing even for this robust unit, which needs to be in top shape for the A’s to have a chance. Having Liam Hendriks go three innings in relief during game three, for example, could cost Oakland in the near future should they need his dominant right arm in a tight spot again during this series.

Of course, anything goes in the postseason, and we could see Hendriks make an appearance in game four. Ideally though, the A’s will receive a solid start from right-hander Frankie Montas to give this overworked bullpen a much needed reprieve.

Should the A’s advance to the ALCS to take on the Tampa Bay Rays or New York Yankees, they will figure to run into the same problem once again. Both of those teams possess strong pitching options (Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, etc.) and dynamic lineups (Have you seen the tears that Giancarlo Stanton and Randy Arozarena are on?) capable of scoring on a moment’s notice. The A’s will surely need good pitching to keep pace.

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The strategy of out-slugging an opponent can have varying degrees of success, as Oakland has bore witness to during these playoffs. In order to facilitate such shootout wins, however, a team has to eventually close those contests out with strong pitching. The Oakland A’s have not been consistent enough on that front, which could mean an earlier conclusion to their season than they’d like.

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