Oakland A's: Who Would the A's Love to Play in a One-Game Playoff
The Oakland Athletics have not been to the American League playoffs since 2006 and it might take a one-game playoff to break that drought in 2012.
The A’s are the epitome of an anomaly. Fielding a roster of relatively unknown players, Oakland has remained a front-runner for a Wild Card playoff spot.
Overcoming a nine-game losing streak early in the season, the A’s registered the best performance in the month of July (19-5) in franchise history.
Now a winner of four games in a row, including a sweep of the Cleveland Indians this weekend, Oakland is poised to play ball through September and into October.
Glancing at the AL standings, there is a chance that it will need to earn one of two Wild Card berths by winning a one-game playoff by regular season’s end.
The A’s have a propensity for winning close games, with 19 wins of one run this season, including a league-leading 15 walk-off wins at home.
That leaves six teams currently vying for three playoff spots. The Chicago White Sox are in the AL Central lead as Detroit looms 1.5 games behind. Four teams are currently within 1.5 games of each other in the Wild Card standings, including the ChiSox (65-55), Tampa Bay Rays (67-54), Baltimore Orioles (66-55) and A’s (65-55).
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are sliding out of the playoff picture, currently 4.5 games off pace. Still, if Oakland must face any team in a one-game playoff, a matchup against the Halos would be least favorable.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Despite the benefits of facing a familiar foe in a one-game playoff, the Angels would spell trouble for an Athletics pitching staff that is relatively inexperienced.
The Halos' big bats could prove disastrous for an Oakland pitching staff that is young and inexperienced. Players like Mark Trumbo, Alber Pujols and this year’s breakout player Mike Trout are able to score runs with one swing of the bat, with a combined slugging percentage of .559 and 81 home runs.
Veterans like Torii Hunter (.299 batting average) and Howie Kendrick (.284) are also putting up solid hitting numbers this season and have plenty of postseason experience.
The Angels are second only to division rival Texas in overall AL batting numbers.
With a dominant pitcher like Jared Weaver (22 games started, 15-3, 2.74 ERA, 0.97 walks plus hits per inning) on the mound to pitch a decisive playoff game, LAA is not a team the A’s should prefer to play.
At this stage in the season, Anaheim will certainly need to play better to be considered a legitimate contender, sitting four games behind Oakland in the AL West (62-60).
Similar to the Angels, the Tigers have some tremendous hitters who would put fear in any pitcher.
Miguel Cabrera continues to torch AL pitchers this season, with a .331 batting average, 31 home runs and 104 runs batted in. Between Cabrera and Prince Fielder, it is a tall order to shut down those hitters, even for a pitching staff as talented as the A’s.
If Oakland has one shot at a playoff bid, it cannot afford to get into a high-scoring game.
With Justin Verlander likely to keep hitters in check, Detroit’s strong hitting lineup makes it a dangerous draw for the A’s.
If there is one team in the American League that can match the A’s in spirit, it’s the Orioles.
On Sunday, the Orioles rallied from a five-run deficit to beat the Detroit Tigers and capture a series win. It marked Baltimore’s third win after being down by at least five runs in its last 18 games.
With a 4.06 team ERA and .244 batting average, the Orioles are characteristically similar to the Athletics. Though there are a couple players who are putting up good batting numbers (Adam Jones, Nick Markakis), there is no standout player who is the star of this team. If anything, it has been Buck Showalter’s ability to rally his team to reach a level of play that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The Orioles drought has lasted 15 years, presumably making them hungrier for an elusive appearance than Oakland or any other team in the hunt. That type of intangible is impossible to quantify or discredit.
If these two squads squared off for one game come September, it would inevitably be a battle of attrition and heart; the qualities of play of which only Baltimore can match Oakland.
Tampa Bay Rays
With a super pitching staff, the Tampa Bay Rays may have found Oakland’s kryptonite.
The Rays are tops in the AL with a 3.33 ERA, 16 points better than Oakland. Led by Cy Young candidate David Price (24 GS, 16-4, 2.39 ERA, 159 strikeouts), the A’s poor hitting lineup would face major issues dealing with this flamethrower.
Oakland ranks dead last in hitting in the Major Leagues with a .232 team batting average. Yoenis Cespedes is the only Athletic hitting over .300.
Compared to its competition, the A’s are still lagging in the power department, but it still ranks higher than Tampa Bay in power hitting with a .379 slugging percentage.
Oakland should feel confident against the Rays with its ace Brandon McCarthy healthy again.
If they can kick the playoff nerves, though...
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are the best option for Oakland to face in a one-game playoff.
For a young Athletics lineup with little playoff experience, it will be difficult enough for them to relieve their jitters. This will be made more difficult facing a pitcher who struck out 11 batters in the teams’ last matchup.
The positive for the Athletics: Chris Sale is just as young and inexperienced in the postseason as they are.
Sale (14-4) was dominant in an Aug. 12 outing, in which he bested the maligned Oakland lineup with five strikeouts, six hits and two earned runs allowed. But he’s in only his second year.
Aside from a couple of veteran hitters like Paul Konerko and AJ Pierzynski, the ChiSox are not hitting particularly well.
These two teams have split six games this season, so it is difficult to gauge the outcome of a one-game showdown.
It will be an uphill battle for Oakland against any of these five teams. If their pitching doesn’t click, the A’s will be hitting the links and going fishing sooner than they would like.