O.CO COLISEUM — The A’s, at least by the numbers, have already sustained the worst collapse in the history of baseball. Now they’re just fighting to keep things from getting worse.
Oakland entered the All-Star break with 59 wins, the most in franchise history and good for fifth all-time in a tie with the 1986 Mets. All other teams with more wins by the break have finished first in their division.
Now, the A’s are just fighting tooth and nail to claw their way into the playoffs. Which, based on at least one measure, should be a surprise.
When Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes was still an Oakland Athletic, the A’s winning percentage tumbled to 40 percent in games where he didn’t play.
Since Cespedes was traded at the end of July, the A’s win percentage is hovering right there — at 44 percent.
Saying the A’s have struggled is more than nice. Oakland has averaged only 2.38 runs scored in 70 games since the big trade.
The pitching staff is solid. Jon Lester, who the A’s acquired when trading Cespedes, is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and possibly the best in the American League.
Adding Jeff Samardzija gives Oakland the best one-two punch in the division. And if the offense can come back to life, scoring four runs or more, they have a chance.
The A’s certainly have a chance to make the postseason — and even succeed. With the Seattle Mariners three games back, the Kansas City Royals are slated to face the A’s in a one-game wild card playoff with the highest of stakes.
The A’s have shown that they can put up numbers. They shouldn’t have lost any confidence, according to manager Bob Melvin, because they dominated the competition at historic levels.
Only a handful of teams in history had recorded more wins as the A’s did before the break.
The 1998 Yankees 61-20 (.753), 2001 Mariners 63-24 (.724), 1954 Cleveland Indians 56-27 (.675), 1969 Baltimore Orioles 65-31 (.677), 1975 Cincinnati Reds 61-29 (.678), 1986 New York Mets 59-25 (.702).
Oakland was 59-36 (.621) at the break.
Some may point to Cespedes’ brutal on-base percentage, but he was a threat to opposing pitchers, forcing them to be more deliberate and aggressive. Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson saw great pitches, and, more often than not, the leadoff hitter was being sent around the bags.
What that means now for the A’s is that everyone needs to spend some extra time in the cage. Another 15 minutes or so in the weight room. But at the same time, stay relaxed and confident. That’s no short order, as simple as it seems.
Perhaps not as simple, though, is if Donaldson and Moss can return to midseason form.
Sure, we know they can. They’re both All Stars, along with catcher Derek Norris, and have three All-Star pitchers to back them.
One key for Oakland is to capitalize on runners in scoring position. Another is to get back to what they did best earlier in the season, making pitchers work hard and get into the other team’s bullpen.
In general, the A’s need to stay patient. Not push too hard, lay back and wait for the one that gets runs in. They don’t necessarily need multi-home run games from Norris, Moss or Donaldson, though surely they’ll take them.
The A’s have the ability to single their way to wins. They clearly have the power to hit the long ball. And if they stick to the basics, expect that to happen more and more.
And Melvin know what can’t happen:
“When you start thinking about one pitch it means that you’re not doing enough offensively to help out on the other end. That’s what it’s been lately. It’s magnifying one or two pitches in the game because we’re not getting enough support.”