As we approach October, we near the unofficial start of spooky season, the time of year for frights and horror stories. Spooky season has its own meaning for major league baseball, as the teams still playing into October have done something right this season.
However, spooky season started a little too early for the Oakland Athletics this year on the fateful day of Sept. 12. Rather than enjoying the coming Halloween season with a horror film that Saturday, the A’s were living in a nightmare of their own.
Matt Chapman, a 2019 All-Star, was told he needed hip surgery and would miss the rest of the 2020 campaign. The ghosts of past underperforming Oakland playoff teams had come back to haunt the 2020 team, claiming Chapman as their latest victim.
Yet, while all seemed lost, there was a light at the end of the Coliseum tunnel. Oakland management had snuffed out and acquired Jake Lamb, who had been cut from his former team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, earlier in the season.
After hitting 59 home runs and 196 runs batted in during 2016 and 2017, Lamb had seen a severe drop in production in the following years — in the 2020 season, he hit 0.116 with a 0.380 on-base plus slugging, or OPS. This lackluster performance soon led to his departure from Arizona.
Since his debut for the A’s on Sept. 14, however, Lamb has been nothing short of a miracle, hitting 0.346 with three doubles and a couple dingers, all for an OPS of 1.085. Replacing Chapman is a near-impossible task, with his league-leading defensive skills and hard-hitting bat, but Lamb is showing he’s up for the challenge.
Past Lamb’s offensive talents, his strong glove and veteran status are great assets to carry into the postseason. Not to mention, his left-handed bat is a welcome sight for a lineup that’s already incredibly balanced.
Since his addition into Oakland’s lineup, Lamb is staying anything but silent, and his loud bat will be much needed as the A’s prepare for their October run.
The race for first and … third?
What looked like a potential dogfight at the bottom of the American League playoff picture a week ago cleared itself up quite easily by Sunday. The eight playoff teams are pretty much all set, with the Houston Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays just a few games away from clinching a spot.
MLB American League playoff matchups & standings if playoffs started today (9/23/2020)
1. Rays vs 8. Blue Jays
4. Twins vs 5. Yankees
2. White Sox vs 7. Indians
3. Athletics vs 6. Astros pic.twitter.com/5g2X3r1sXz
— MLB 2020 Playoffs as of Today (@MLBPlayoffToday) September 23, 2020
The top three teams — the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox and A’s — each have pretty comfortable leads in their division, so it is the race between these contenders that will decide the final matchups of the opening round.
The Rays look like a pretty solid lock to take the top spot and play the eighth-seeded Blue Jays in the first round. However, a half game separates the Sox and A’s, and their placement has large implications for both teams.
In the end, it may be in the best interest of both teams, but especially the A’s, to finish in that third-place spot. Although this seems counterintuitive, a third-place seeding would allow the A’s to play the Astros, who have pretty much locked in the sixth seed, instead of the seventh-place Cleveland Indians.
The A’s have dominated the Astros this year with a 7-3 record. On top of that, star ace Justin Verlander just announced that he indeed needs Tommy John surgery, leaving the Astros without an arm.
Meanwhile, Cleveland boasts one of the strongest rotations in the league, led by future AL Cy Young winner and potential 2020 MVP Shane Bieber. Bieber has undoubtedly been the best pitcher in the bigs this year, boasting a 1.74 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 72.1 innings. The rotation also features big names such as Carlos Carrasco and Zach Plesac, who form a formidable front line.
Having three stud starters is all you need in the AL Wild Card round, which is just a short three-game series. So the question of whether the A’s want to face Bieber or Zack Greinke in their first playoff game has an easy answer, but it all comes down to the final standing.
Not only would the A’s benefit from an easier matchup against the Astros, but the lower seeding wouldn’t hurt them in terms of home-field advantage, as the playoffs will move into a bubble at a neutral site after the first round.
While the A’s want to be playing their best heading into October, it’s safe to say they wouldn’t be upset with a third-place finish in the AL and a matchup against their divisional rivals.
Who’s toeing the rubber?
With the resurgence of Lamb, the A’s have pretty much filled all the remaining holes in their lineup. However, a few questions remain about the starting rotation — not about their performance, but about who will get the ball in the first round of the playoffs.
The A’s have a plethora of options, including young guns Sean Manaea and Jesús Luzardo, veterans Mike Fiers and Mike Minor and rotation staples Frankie Montas and Chris Bassitt.
With all these options, it may come down to who is pitching the best heading into the postseason. The answer to that question right now would unequivocally be Manaea, Luzardo and Bassitt.
After a sluggish start to the 2020 season, Manaea has been lights out recently, posting a 4-1 record and a 2.45 ERA in his last six starts. The only reservation for A’s fans is that Manaea posted similar numbers in the latter half of 2019 and was, in turn, given the start of the wild-card game, in which he gave up four runs in two innings.
On the flip side, Luzardo and Bassitt have been nearly lights out all season. Luzardo, thick in the race for AL Rookie of the Year, has a 3.86 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 11 starts. Meanwhile, Bassitt has silently posted the best numbers of them all, with a 5-2 record and 2.57 ERA in 10 starts.
It would be hard to imagine manager Bob Melvin going with someone other than these three in the opening round, but we could see Montas, Fiers or Minor in relief roles during the first series.
In the end, the A’s are set up nicely for a deep postseason run with all their pitching depth, especially considering the lack of off days in this year’s playoffs. With the addition of Lamb and a top bullpen, anything short of a World Series appearance would be a disappointment for the green and gold.