A's Look to Erase Bad Memories of Wild Card Stumbles by Winning West

John Hickey

The A’s have had back-to-back 97-win seasons, which has created plenty of excitement in Oakland looking toward 2020, because almost all of the key pieces are back for this run at the postseason.

Underlying that are the 2018 and 2019 postseasons. The A’s were bounced in the Wild Card game both times, first by the Yankees, who scored twice in the first inning in the Bronx and never looked back en route to a 5-2 win. Then last Oct. 2 Tampa Bay came to Oakland, scored four times in the first three innings and coasted to a 5-1 win.

The A’s plan on making it to the playoffs a third consecutive time. This time they’d like to do it by dethroning the Astros.

In the words of right fielder Stephen Piscotty, “We ran into a couple of tough games in those wild cards.”

The remedy, Piscotty said, is simple: win the American League West outright.

“We’re hoping obviously to take down the division this year and make it a little easier going forward,” Piscotty said. “That’s everyone’s goal this year. All our momentum is moving in the right direction.”

Piscotty likes the A’s veteran presence, but he says the difference maker in Oakland may be the youngest of the players, including rookie starting pitchers A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo.

“We have so many young guys contributing,” he says. “It’s really cool. They are so young, but we are going to be counting on them.”

First baseman Matt Olson adds that “obviously there is a little sour taste in out mouth after last year,” he said. “(This spring) we have a little breathe of fresh air here. We’ll change it up.

“We have the potential (to get to the top), absolutely. We have a lot of guys coming back who have been here the last few years. They have gotten more experience under their belts, and it’s going to turn into great things.

“We are in a great spot this year, the best since I’ve been here. We want to take it and run with it.”

It doesn’t hurt that the team that finished ahead of the A’s the last two seasons, the Houston Astros, don’t know where the next shoe will fall. They have a much-publicized sign-stealing scandal that doesn’t seem likely to go away any time soon. They are picked in many circles to win the division again, but they’ve lost GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch to the 2017 sign-stealing scandal and ace Gerrit Cole (20-5, 2.50) is gone thanks to free agency.

Still, the A’s can’t hope for the best if the do what they’ve done the last two seasons and flounder until mid-June, then become the hottest team in baseball. In both cases, the Astros had built up enough of a lead to make a pennant race moot.

Two years ago, they went 63-29 from June 16 on, which was the best in the Major Leagues, making the playoffs after being 11.1 games out. Then last year Oakland went 60-28 from June 17 on (also best in MLB), again making the playoffs after being 10.5 games out of first.