With postseason play around the corner, the Oakland A’s know their strengths, their weaknesses, and what they need to improve on. They have this weekend to lock into a rhythm and remind themselves what winning feels like.
The A’s don’t yet know who they will play but they do know the wild card series will be played at home, a welcome reward for winning the AL West. The Tampa Bay Rays (37-20) clinched their first AL East division in a decade, while the Minnesota Twins (34-23) won the AL Central.
The No. 1 seed in the AL will play the No. 8 seed, the final wild card team. As division winners, but unable to overtake No. 1 Tampa Bay, the A’s will enter postseason in the second or third seeds, which would make a huge difference, since Oakland could play either the Houston Astros or the Cleveland Indians. Houston is a team they have faced all season, and the other they haven’t seen once this year.
The race for the second and third seeds in the AL is tight and could come down to Sunday. The Twins and Rays will play one less game than the A’s, who play a seven inning double-header Saturday against Seattle.
The A’s offense has been hot and cold all season. They got off to a blazing start and, even with Matt Chapman out, were able to pull off some impressive wins. But they couldn’t keep that going against the Dodgers, the best team in baseball who play like a true playoff team. The A’s have been held to just six hits or fewer in 10 of their last 11 games, which led A’s hitting coach Darren Bush to speak to the media Friday.
Bush said he knows the team has what it takes to go far and it is up to them to do it:
“You have to find a way to be successful and find a way to be competitive up there everyday. With everything that has happened in the course of this season, all the different things that we have to do now that we haven’t done in the past, it is an adjustment period for everybody. These guys are good enough hitters where you have some days off, it is just like an All-Star break, you have some days off, you figure out a way to be successful. As good of hitters they are, they have the ability to do that.”
The reason the team has been in a mini slump in the past few games is because they have been indecisive at the plate, Bush said:
“Guys are wanting to have success and just a little indecisive and being a little bit passive which makes you miss pitches. Then you try to get a little aggressive and you start expanding the zone a little bit then you miss pitches that you should hit, just a little indecision going on.”
Bush said everyone has to be able to make that adjustment in the box right away. He said Ramon Laureano was able to adjust his hands, choking up in recent at-bats. Bush said players don’t want to make adjustments because it “feels weird” and that is why they may continue to struggle.
Friday afternoon Bob Melvin finally shared his starting rotation for the last regular season series:
“Chris Bassitt will pitch [Friday], then Mike Minor will pitch the first game and then Blackburn will pitch the second game and as of right now Frankie Montas will pitch the Sunday game.”
Oakland pitching has been the talk of the league all season, and six possible A’s starters are options for the three-game wild card series starting in Oakland on Tuesday.
Asked if he knew who would be getting those starts, Melvin said:
“No, not at this point. I think certainly the opponent has something to do with it too. We do have guys lined up to be flexible on how we deploy them.”
The Twins host the Cincinnati Reds this weekend while the Rays play the visiting Phillies. All three division winners will have home field advantage, not only for the last series of the season but for the first postseason series as well.
For 2020, the wild card round will be three games rather than a single-game elimination. Hendriks said that takes some pressure off, and he believes The A’s play better when they are relaxed:
“When we start putting too much pressure on ourselves, that is when things get a little eerie but taking the pressure off, going out there, whoever we face on Opening Day, it doesn’t matter as much. … I don’t think there are too many teams in the league that can stack up against us if we are playing our best baseball.”
Hendriks said it doesn’t matter who they play:
“Obviously as a vindictive kinda thing, we wanna take out the Astros but yeah, I don’t care who we play as long as we beat them. That is our biggest goal. I don’t care who we play, I don’t care where it is played, I don’t care about anything as long as we are able to get through that one [round] and head over to LA or San Diego or wherever we are heading, no matter what.”
Without Matt Chapman, a big voice in the clubhouse that is known to bring energy, and without any fans, the A’s have been in a bit of a hump the past few games. This season has been tough without fans, Melvin said:
“There are times that are more difficult than others and we have clinched a spot and we are looking forward to the playoffs and sometimes it doesn’t look all that enthusiastic … we need to take this time to have better at-bats during these next four games and get ourselves ready for the postseason but there are certain times that are tougher than others and in this season it can be a challenge.”
Chad Pinder took batting practice and did some sprints prior to Friday’s game and will either pinch hit in the second half of the four-game series or will wait until postseason … J.B Wendelken was placed on the injured list and James Kaprielian was called up for the fourth time this season, hoping to make his second start.