SEATTLE — The Oakland Athletics clinched their first playoff berth in four years Monday night, earning at least an American League wild card when the Tampa Bay Rays lost to the New York Yankees.
Following three straight last-place finishes in the AL West, the A’s found out just a couple of minutes after the first pitch of their game against Seattle that they are in the postseason for the first time since 2014.
Tampa Bay’s 4-1 loss to the Yankees eliminated the Rays from playoff contention. Oakland still has an outside shot at overtaking Houston for the division title, but is more likely headed toward a wild-card matchup with the Yankees.
The A’s could still host that game. They beat the Mariners 7-3 to remain 1½ games behind the Yankees for the top wild card.
Few people imagined the A’s could make the playoffs this season, a young team with few proven stars after finishing 75-87 a year ago. Oakland won only 68 games in 2015 and 69 in 2016.
The A’s have the third-lowest payroll among the 30 major league clubs at $78 million for their 40-man roster, ahead of only the White Sox and Rays.
Oakland was 34-36 and 11 games behind Seattle in the wild-card race on June 15. The A’s have gone 60-26 since then, pending the outcome of Monday’s game.
“We’ve had some younger players mature and become, for me, stars,” manager Bob Melvin said Monday. “I think the two guys on the corners (third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson) should win Gold Gloves.
“Our defense is night-and-day to what it was and it’s gotten better as the year’s gone along. We’ve gone from last year being one of the worst defenses in the league to now one of the best. Our bullpen has been a strength for us all year. We don’t just rely on one facet. We seem to be able to win in different ways.”
Oakland designated hitter Khris Davis leads the majors with a career-high 45 home runs and has 119 RBI. Davis has hit at least 40 homers and driven in more than 100 runs in each of this three seasons with the Athletics.
Blake Treinen (9-2) is one of the top closers in baseball with 37 saves and a 0.81 ERA, the lowest of all major league relievers with at least 75 innings pitched. Opponents have a .091 batting average against Treinen with runners in scoring position.
“It’s amazing,” Melvin said. “Not only is he doing it closing games, he’s doing it in games when we’re tied and he’s pitching two innings at times. The numbers are absolutely fantastic. I don’t know that I’ve seen numbers like that from any closer in quite some time. He’s meant a lot to this team.”
The A’s are the only team in the majors with an undefeated record this season when leading after seven innings (67-0). They entered Monday with the best record in baseball in one-run games at 31-13.
Oakland made key moves to bolster the pitching staff via trades over the summer by adding veteran relievers Jeurys Familia and Fernando Rodney and starter Mike Fiers, who is 5-1 with a 2.90 ERA since joining the Athletics.
The A’s overcame losing key starters from their rotation down the stretch. That included left-hander Sean Manaea, who pitched a no-hitter on April 21 against Boston and is now done for the year recovering from arthroscopic shoulder surgery that took place this past week.
The Athletics are making their fourth playoff appearance in the last seven seasons (all under Melvin) and their 27th postseason appearance all-time. The A’s lost at Kansas City 9-8 in 12 innings in the 2014 wild-card game, the last time Oakland reached the postseason.
The last time the A’s reached the World Series was 1990, losing in four games to the Cincinnati Reds. Oakland won the 1989 World Series (which took place during the Bay Area earthquake) in four straight games over the San Francisco Giants.