- The A's are the biggest surprise of the 2018 playoffs, and their power makes them immensely appealing.
After the Angels signed Shohei Ohtani, the A’s weren’t expected to compete for a playoff spot in a division that contained the defending world champion (the Astros), the best player in the game (the Angels’ Mike Trout) and one of baseball’s most powerful lineups (the Mariners). After losing its two most promising starting pitchers (A.J. Puk and Jharel Cotton) to season-ending elbow injuries, Oakland looked destined for .500 or worse. Instead, Bob Melvin’s team stunned pretty much everyone (excluding our own Michael Beller) to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Case For: This team can absolutely rake. Seven of the nine starters have an OPS+ above the league-average 100, six starters hit at least 17 homers and two reserves (Ramon Laureano and Nick Martini) arrived in the second half of the season to provide power off of the bench. The team’s foremost slugger, Khris Davis, hit 47 homers while the team’s best player, Matt Chapman, was the team’s most consistent source of offense (.278/.356/.508) while emerging as one of baseball’s best third basemen.
Simply put, the A’s offense never gives any pitcher a break. They finished third in home runs (227) and fourth in slugging percentage (.439) despite playing in the roomy Oakland Coliseum. All of this came with one proven slugger in Davis while the promising young core (Chapman, Matt Olson, Chad Pinder and Stephen Piscotty) all seemed to coalesce this season. Add the immortal Jed Lowrie (.267/.353/.448 with a career-high 23 homers) to the lineup and there are plenty of reasons to fear this group.
Case Against: The starting pitching is going to be an issue. Melvin has opted to start Liam Hendriks in the Wild Card Game as part of the “bullpenning” strategy that has taken hold this year. Ace Sean Manaea was lost to the season with a shoulder injury in September, leaving Oakland with a cadre of journeymen (Edwin Jackson, Mike Fiers, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill) to bolster an unproven and injured pitching staff. The bullpen is loaded with plenty of esteemed relievers in Jeurys Familia, Shawn Kelley, Fernando Rodney and Cy Young candidate Blake Treinen, but the staff needs to get through at least five innings before they arrive.
X-Factor: Stephen Piscotty
After a lost year in St. Louis in 2017, Piscotty landed in Oakland to be near his ailing mother, Gretchen, who died in May. After a slow start to the year, Piscotty blossomed from June 13 until the end of the season, slashing .286/.352/.574 with 24 homers over 93 games. The power surge was a boon to the already powerful Oakland offense, and Piscotty’s presence helped protect more formidable power hitters like Olson, Davis and Chapman.
Why You Should Root for Them: Billy Beane and friends still do baseball right despite low investment from ownership and the absolute worst facility in baseball (and maybe the United States). Watching Oakland win 97 games through shrewd acquisitions and player development is a pleasure to any fan invested in running an organization the right way. Maybe one day, ownership will care enough to build a ballpark worthy of the team’s talents. Also Stomper is a pretty fun mascot. I like Stomper.
Most Famous Fan: Tom Hanks, an Oakland native, worked at the Coliseum when in high school and is still a fan. After that it’s probably MC Hammer when he’s not performing at local county fairs or E-40.