How Have Athletics Survived Without Getting More from the Offense?
The Oakland A’s are the American League West champions.
They didn’t get to celebrate on the field; the Mariners beat the Astros Monday night and, with the A’s in the bubble in the Los Angeles-area hotel, utility man Chad Pinder said the cheering when that one was over could be heard “down the hallway when it happened.”
Not exactly champagne and hugs in the clubhouse, but that's what it is in 2020.
Heading into the playoffs with a home Wild Card series as one of six division champions, one question dogs the A’s.
How did they get here with an offense that has spent too much of the season in quarantine?
Heading into the final week of the season, the A’s rank 25th in batting average at .226, 14th in on base percentage, .323, 21st in slugging percentage, .398, 17th in home runs, 64, and 11th in runs per game, 4.75.
Oakland doesn’t have a .300 hitter, unless you count newcomer Jake Lamb, who was a .116 hitter with the Diamondbacks before hitting .364 in six games with the A’s. And if you take another newbie to the lineup, Tommy La Stella, out of the equation, Oakland can’t field a lineup with batter averaging over .241.
So, for this team to own a 33-20 record and to be ranked among the best of the best is a little odd. Even the A’s think so, although they see the oddity that their offensive numbers aren’t better, not that the club shouldn’t be 13 games over .500.
The poster child for all this is first baseman Matt Olson. On opening day, he had a walkoff grand slam and he’s gone on to lead the team with 14 homers and 42 RBI. But he’s struck out a ton (67 times in 189 at-bats) and his batting average has been a wasteland – .196 coming into the Dodgers series and never getting above .205 since the first week of the season. This from a lefty with a nice swing whose three-year average from 2017-19 was .256.
“Matt Olson’s number would pretty much suggest kind of how things have gone for us,” manager Bob Melvin said. “You look at the average and it’s not great. He walks. He gets on base, He hits homers. He drives in runs. And he gets timely and hit and hits timely homers.
“So, we’ve done enough offensively at the right time to have the kind of success that we’ve had this year with guys who, when you look at their numbers … they don’t look great. The averages in our lineup on a particular night, they don’t look great. But enough guys show up on a particular day and get big hits and get on base to help us win.”
Then there’s Khris Davis. The AL homer champ in 2018 with 48 while averaging 44 homers per year from 2016-18, Davis was hurt last year and had his power numbers fall off. The falloff has continued; Davis comes into the series with a .197/.317/.329 slash line.
“We’ve seen how important he’s been to this lineup over the years,” Melvin said. “And If he finished strong, that would be great for us.”
Shortstop Marcus Semien another one of those struggling (.229, but with seven homers), wants to see the offense get going.
“It’s more about our lineup stepping up,” Semien said. “The timely hitting has been there lately. The games. The games that we struggle in seem to be when we leave a lot of runners on base.
“It’s never going to be perfect. We still have a lineup that can hit the longball, to, so I think we’re well-balanced and we just want to peak at the right time.”
It’s not going to be easy, left fielder Robbie Grossman (.231, 5 homers) said. But the battle is on.
“It’s a grind with all the obstacles and challenges thrown at us every day,” Grossman said. “I wouldn’t rather be on any other team. Look at the group of guys we have in this room … how we’ve played so far. And this is our last little tuneup before it really matters.”
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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