No one thought the Oakland A’s would be in this position when the season started. Most saw the AL West coming down to the Houston Astros, LA Angels, and Seattle Mariners vying for playoff spots. The first two months of the season appeared to back up all the predictors. Manager Bob Melvin’s club treaded water in April and May. Despite an improving June, in which the A’s went 17-10 and outscored opponents 144 to 117, per Baseball Reference, they sat 11.5 games behind Houston in the standings on June 24th. Then General Manager Billy Beane made his move(s). Oakland brought in as many bullpen arms as possible to offset a thin starting rotation. Jeurys Familia, Shawn Kelly, and even Fernando Rodney came to help Oakland’s bullpen. Beane added A’s retread Mike Fiers, who’s changed his approach with excellent results to save the rotation.
Somehow, Melvin and the A’s are getting every last scrap of value from their players, and the results have been impressive. Since the end of June, Oakland is (heading into their game against Houston Monday night) 33-14. So far in August, they’ve outscored opponents 105 to 59.
The A’s are a good team. Despite their 626 runs scored and 534 runs allowed, they’ve actually outperformed their expected win-loss record. But, this week is crucial. Oakland opens a three-game series against the Astros in Houston, then returns home to face the Mariners in four games. It’s a chance to put down all their competition and take the AL West crown for themselves.
Can they handle it? Third baseman Matt Chapman is a star in his first full season. We know he’s a defensive genius, but his bat is coming through at just the right time for Oakland, too. On the year, Chapman is slashing .282/.366/.523 and .317/.384/.634 since Melvin moved him to second in the batting lineup. Surrounding Chapman on offense are solid run producers Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis, who have helped propel the A’s to where we find them today. The biggest issue will be how the A’s starting rotation responds to ace Sean Manaea going to the disabled list with a left shoulder impingement. Can Edwin Jackson, Brett Anderson, and others prevent runs long enough into games for the bullpen to protect leads? The A’s will have to fight hard against their AL West rivals, against whom they haven’t played particularly well. Oakland is 5-7 against Seattle and 6-10 against Houston this year. The AL West playoff race could very well come down to this week.
Rest of the West
The Seattle Mariners took two of three from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the desert this week. They’ll head to San Diego to play their “rivals” the Padres, then comes the big Oakland showdown. If the A’s have a make-or-break week, the Mariners have even more to lose as the outsiders looking into the AL playoff race.
The Astros have a chance to beat back the field this week at home with ten games at Minute Maid Park. They’re getting healthier at the right time. George Springer and Jose Altuve have returned, with Jake Marisnick and Brian McCann possibly returning soon. Even Chris Devenski might make an appearance this September. Manager A.J. Hinch will need all hands on deck to fend off Oakland in the stretch run.
For better or for worse, the face of the Texas Rangers, for the time being, is apparently light-hitting shortstop Elvis Andrus, whose .266/.315/.384 line isn’t exactly Ruthian, but his steady veteran presence during a lost season might pay dividends in the future, like his sure hands at shortstop have already. Whether the 30-year old will stick around beyond this year remains to be seen, but at worst, Texas has a sure-handed shortstop with the potential to hit around .300, like he did last season.
After a lengthy absence, Angels star Mike Trout returned to the lineup this week. How anyone can play baseball at any level after losing a family member so young is beyond me. Trout honored his late brother-in-law with an “A. Cox” on his jersey for players’ weekend. The team felt his absence, dropping six in a row, including a sweep by Houston.
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