For the first time since 2013, the Oakland A’s are American League West champions after the Houston Astros fell 6-1 in Seattle Monday night.
Seven years ago, the Houston Astros finished last. For the past three straight seasons, the Astros have claimed the AL West, but 2020 has been filled with surprises, including now an Oakland A’s division title.
A’s reliever Jake Diekman has not allowed a single earned run in 18-1/3 innings this season. He spoke Sunday about what an AL West crown would mean to this team:
“We know we are a team that can go very deep into post season, we will celebrate but I mean we still have a week left, if there is stuff we need to work on or get better at or just stay focused for the last week I think [Bob Melvin] will get us that way.”
In 2013 the A’s won their division but lost the AL Division series 3-2 to the Detroit Tigers. Players that come to mind when thinking of that team include Josh Donaldson, Bartolo Colon, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, A.J. Griffin, Brandon Moss, Jarrod Parker, Jed Lowrie, Derek Norris, Ryan Cook, Grant Balfour, and Dan Straily.
The Houston Astros won the World Series in 2017, and we now know how, after news of their cheating scandal emerged. But after that season, they added Gerrit Cole to an already hefty pitching rotation that included Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, All-Star Lance McCullers Jr. and World Series hero Charlie Morton.
In 2020, after the scandal became known, manager A.J. Hinch was let go and the Astros traded Cole to the New York Yankees. Without two Cy Young pitchers in the Houston starting rotation, the A’s and Astros seemed a little more even, competition-wise. The A’s aren’t known to spend money on players, while the Astros have no problem giving multiple players multi-million dollar contracts.
The Astros tried to act like they were still a great team, but after a rule change that doesn’t allow players to check video during games, it seems the Astros have suffered the most. Even though the MLB’s punishment for the scandal wasn’t very harsh, karma seems to have hit them.
Verlander announced Saturday he will undergo Tommy John surgery and will be placed on the injured list for the second time in his career. Dusty Baker, the new manager for the 2020 Astros, has been getting asked if they are still trying to play deep into the postseason after needing to call up multiple minor leaguers due to multiple injuries to help complete the 2020 season.
The A’s pretty much had the same team coming into 2020, and they too have had to deal with some tough injuries. Despite injuries to Marcus Semien, Stephen Piscotty and of course the season-ending injury to Matt Chapman, they were able to add the perfect pieces to make the 2020 post season puzzle complete.
The A’s have lost the Wild Card in two straight seasons, one in New York in 2018 and in 2019 at home. Melvin joked at Fan Fest before the season when asked if he wished the Wild Card was three games and he said:
“Well, if we won I don’t think we would be wishing for three.”
The A’s seemed to be cursed when it comes to the Wild Card. The one time they win the division, and should be sitting out a Wild Card round, they will have to play in one anyway. Luckily for them, this season means three games, which is a better replica of a true baseball series when deciding who the better team really is. Best of three is how the game is played, but single elimination games bring drama.
We knew this team was going to be hot prior to Covid-19, and even though some say this season isn’t a real season, others argue it may mean more than a normal season because of everything these players had to overcome, from the 60-game season, to Covid-19, to racial inequality, game postponements, and literally playing everyday. The A’s traveled to three different states in three days and played five games in those three days at one point.
Piscotty missed a couple of games this season but spoke about what the team has been able to accomplish in such weird times:
“It is really special. I mean it is kinda a form of damage control. We have a lead, we don’t wanna give that away by any means and I think there is a bit of a trap when you have a big cushion like that as to kinda say ok we are ok we have this cushion, I don’t see that in this team. I didn’t think we would kinda go about it that way, it was just really cool to see that we were able to come through with some big wins, under some tough circumstances, so like I said, I think everybody feels good about where we are at coming through that.”
A regular season still has multiple games in a week, but not to the extent it has this year. Playing so many games in so many days plays a toll on the bullpen and the teams with great bullpen performances are the teams that are going far into the post season. Melvin on his bullpen:
“I think the good thing about our rotation, we feel good about all these guys. It is going to be who we actually use so the opponents has something to do with it obviously, all these guys are going to get starts leading up, hopefully we are in a position where we can do things the way we want to.”
In 100 years, when we are all off this earth, the World Series Champions for the 2020 season may have an asterisk underneath that says only 60 games played this season. Fans in 2120 may not understand all the hard work that was put into this season, and all the negatives that came with, it but winning a World Series is still winning a championship, and it never comes easily, no matter what the circumstances may be.
Simone McCarthy is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @SimoneMcCarthy0 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.