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Oakland A's Look Like 2020's Team of Destiny

The Athletics would be a fitting World Series champion for this bizarre season, and they might have the well-balanced formula to exorcise the franchise’s playoff demons.

The shape of baseball’s regular season usually starts to take its true form around Memorial Day, roughly one-third of the way through. Well, nearly every team has played one-third of their games in this shortened season, and the Oakland Athletics have the sport’s best record at 16-6.

That wouldn’t be the case if they had lost any of their games in the interleague Bay Area series this weekend, which appeared very likely on both Friday and Saturday. In fact, San Francisco held win probabilities of 99.8% and 96.9% in the ninth innings of those respective nights, according to Fangraphs.

But the A’s stormed back from a five-run deficit in the final frame on Friday, then rallied from three runs down in the ninth on Saturday. They spared poor Giants closer Trevor Gott more humiliation on Sunday by getting their offensive outburst out of the way in the fifth inning, scoring nine runs en route to a 15-3 win.

Having won 13 of their last 15 games, the A’s now hold some incredibly favorable probabilities of their own. Fangraphs gives them a 99% chance of qualifying for the playoffs and a 73.5% chance to win the American League West, which they now lead by 4.5 games, the largest gap in any division.

We are going to see the Oakland Coliseum host at least one postseason game this year. The question is what happens from there.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 14: Stephen Piscotty #25, Khris Davis #2, Sean Murphy #12 and Robbie Grossman #8 of the Oakland Athletics celebrates after Piscotty hit a game tying grand slam against the San Francisco Giants in the top of the ninth inning at Oracle Park on August 14, 2020 in San Francisco, California.

The A’s haven’t won a playoff series since 2006, when they were swept in the ALCS by Detroit. Since then, they’ve lost twice in Game 5 of the ALDS and three more times in the wild-card game, including last season’s home defeat to the Tampa Bay Rays and a thrashing at Yankee Stadium the year before that. Even when Oakland boasted the Big Three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, the team could never get over the hump in the postseason, falling four years in a row in Game 5 of the ALDS between 2000-2003.

But this A’s edition might have the right, well-balanced formula to exorcise the franchise’s playoff demons. They’re the only AL team to rank in the top five league-wide in runs scored (135) and ERA (3.52). Fangraphs’ defensive rating also ranks them as MLB’s second-best defensive team, while UZR puts them at first. 

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They seem to have a different hero every night. Stephen Piscotty hit the game-tying grand slam on Friday. Mark Canha launched the go-ahead home run on Saturday. Chad Pinder came off the bench to belt the tie-breaking homer on Sunday. Robbie Grossman’s 1.041 OPS leads the team and ranks 12th in the league. Only Mike Trout, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Aaron Judge have hit more home runs than first baseman Matt Olson’s eight (though the fact he has just seven other hits and a .185 batting average is slightly concerning). Khris Davis and Marcus Semien haven’t even gotten hot yet.

Frankie Montas (1.57 ERA) and Chris Bassitt (2.42 ERA) both rank in the top 10 of the AL ERA leaderboard through four starts apiece. Sean Manaea, last year’s wild-card game starter, and Jesús Luzardo possess the potential to get there. The bullpen, led by closer Liam Hendriks, has recorded an AL-best 2.32 ERA.

Other than striking out too much—they’ve struck out an AL-high 221 times—which pretty much every team does in 2020, Oakland doesn’t appear to have a weakness. 

The A's would be a fitting World Series champion for this bizarre season. Their stadium, universally regarded as MLB's worst, will be empty for every game. They came to blows with the villains of the league, who were exposed by Oakland starter Mike Fiers. And after what happened this weekend, even if they do find themselves trailing in a playoff game, they'll believe they can win until the final out.

Quick Hits

  • Teams across the league celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues on Sunday. No team looked better doing it than the Marlins, who wore some simple yet snazzy “Miami Giants” uniforms to honor a semi-pro team that played in the 1930s at the still-standing Dorsey Park. They also had Robert Paige, son of the legendary Satchel Paige (who once played for the Marlins when they were a minor-league team), throw a virtual first pitch. You love to see it.
  • The White Sox tied the MLB record with four consecutive home runs, thanks to Yoán Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, José Abreu and Eloy Jiménez. It was the 10th time that’s ever happened, and the second time the White Sox have done it. The first time was almost exactly 12 years ago.
  • Will the Dodgers ever stop producing instant-success rookies? Catcher Keibert Ruiz hit a home run in his first career at-bat on Sunday.
  • You may have heard about the Yankees’ recent domination of the Orioles, but Cleveland has been even more ruthless against a division foe. The Tribe’s weekend sweep of the Tigers gave them 20 straight wins over Detroit. Three more wins will tie the divisional era record, set by Orioles against Kansas City between 1969-1970.
  • Nationals pitchers seem to be making a habit of getting thrown out from the stands the day before they’re scheduled to start. Anibal Sanchez followed in Stephen Strasburg’s footsteps on Sunday. Austin Voth, you’re up next.