Prior to the season, few outside of Oakland expected the 2018 Athletics to win as many as 80 games. Fewer still saw them as an 85-win team. And perhaps none thought they would be around come October.
The A’s lost their chance to clinch a postseason berth at home Sunday, but Monday, before they had finished the first inning in Seattle, their advancement became official. With the Rays falling to the Yankees in Tampa, the A’s became the fifth and final team to lock up their spot in the postseason.
Their fight is far from over, though.
A chance — albeit slim — remains that the A’s catch the division-leading Astros. More likely, Oakland still has a chance to host a one-game Wild Card matchup with the Yankees.
Manager Bob Melvin, who grew up in the Bay Area attending A’s games at the Oakland Coliseum, knows full well the advantages of hosting a potential winner-take-all game:
“You always want to play at home because it can be a real advantage and we’ve played really well in the second half at home.”
But, the skipper added, playing on the road is far from demoralizing for a club currently fourth in baseball in road on-base percentage (.331), third in road average (.263), second in road runs (408) and first in road homers (125):
“We’re not afraid to play on the road. We’ve done really well on the road this year, and our offensive numbers are a little bit more so. If it gets to that, I don’t think anybody would be too worried about that.”
All the offense has amounted to one of the best records in baseball, a fourth-best 44-31 to be precise. But Oakland, which holds the fourth-best overall record in the league, is far from a rollover at home. Their 50-31 record at home is sixth-best — third-most wins.
Bay Area native Marcus Semien said, regardless of the A’s successful road season, that it would be and advantage home field, particularly if their postseason survival rests on a single game:
“When (the Oakland Coliseum) is packed it gets really loud and crazy, that puts pressure on the other team and gets us going. That’s why, if we don’t win the division, it would be great to host here.”
Semien pointed to something else that he feels could give his team an advantage in the postseason, something that many see as a disadvantage:
“A lot of teams don’t seem comfortable here. Especially with with how the field is playing with the Raiders here, it’s just a different place. We know what to expect when we play here.”
Everyone who plays in Oakland in October, be it the Yankees in a Wild Card game, the Red Sox in a championship series game or Cleveland in a division series game, will have to hit in the heavy Bay Area Autumn air, neutralizing each side identically. Like Semien said, the Oakland infield, particularly Jed Lowrie and Semien who have played on the dual-sport surface for years, holds the true advantage in a postseason series.
Another advantage Oakland will have, as potential Wild Card game starter Mike Fiers said, is the fact that the club have been playing and winning playoff-type games for about a month:
“We played team-baseball on the road and in tight games where it’s tough; those are the types of games that’s going to happen in the playoffs, so it’s good to see that.”
The A’s will certainly head into the postseason far from the underdogs they were six months ago when the regular season began, and their A’s fans have every reason to be excited at the possibilities.