In a few days the A’s will be caught up in the New York City hoopla, entering Yankee Stadium as underdogs in a one-game playoff against the Yankees.
For now, as they leave Anaheim on Sunday and embark on the cross-country flight, they can relish in the improbable season they’ve put together.
Despite a 5-4 loss to the Angels, the A’s ended the 2018 regular season with 98 wins, eighth-most in Oakland history and the most wins by an A’s club since 2013. It marked a 22-win improvement over last year’s 75-win season, the third-biggest turnaround in Oakland history.
It didn’t dampen spirits in the clubhouse postgame, where music blasted and manager Bob Melvin talked glowingly about the season:
“We’re thrilled with where we are at this point, and now the fun starts. It’s not like the season hasn’t been fun, but postseason is a different level.”
Not much was expected this season out of the A’s, a young team with potential, but seemingly a few years away from contention. April, May and half of June went by, and they hovered around .500.
Then, something flipped.
The A’s went 63-29 after June 15, the best record in the majors in that span. They won 13 of their last 18 series. They made up double-digit games in the Wild Card standings to leapfrog the Mariners for the second spot and even toyed with usurping the Astros atop the AL West for a stretch in August.
“It seems like over the course of the season, the bigger the games, the better these guys have responded. We’ve played games here down the stretch that have felt like playoff games.”
They won most of them, and they are ready for New York, according to Khris Davis:
” feel like we’re ready to get there, get it going. We know we’ve got a challenge ahead of us, but that’s when we play our best.”
For a team that wasn’t supposed to do much in 2018, the A’s — who entered the season with the lowest payroll in baseball — finished with the fourth best record in the majors, popped champagne on Sept. 24 and had a week of meaningless regular season games after the Astros clinched the division.
It allowed them to rest players in the final series against the Angels, and Melvin took full advantage. On Sunday, every starter but Nick Martini, Jed Lowrie and Matt Olson departed the game early for rest. The only suspense was whether Davis (48 home runs) and Lowrie (99 RBIs) would reach their respective milestones. Neither succeeded despite taking big cuts at the plate.
Davis, who flied out and struck out, said he was trying to aim for homers:
“I was trying and it never works out that way. It wasn’t meant to be, but I like where I’m at. I like where this team’s at.”
Starting pitcher Brett Anderson (ND, 4-5, 4.48 ERA) went three innings, leaving after taking a line drive in the back off the bat of Shohei Ohtani. The bullpen went the rest of the way, tuning up for what may very well be a bullpen game on Wednesday.
And the A’s are deep as any playoff team in the ‘pen. After the three “closers” – Fernando Rodney, Jeurys Familia and Blake Treinen — finished Saturday’s win, Melvin used Lou Trivino, Yusmeiro Petit, Ryan Buchter, J.B. Wendelken, Emilio Pagán and Hatcher. The first five pitchers held the Angels hitless until Hatcher allowed three runs in the ninth.
Melvin said the team scripted who would pitch on Saturday and Sunday. Some pitchers needed three days off, others two days:
“Everybody got their work and at this point everybody’s ready to go.”
If it was scripted then it was, for the most part, a strong audition for the bright lights of New York where the A’s hope their magical season will continue.
The A’s will fly to New York later on Sunday, take Monday off and work out Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s tilt against the Yankees. The Wild Card Game is set for 5:00 p.m. PST at Yankee Stadium.
The A’s are not expected to announce a starter until Tuesday. The Yankees have also yet to announce a starter, though ace Luis Severino (19-8, 3.39 ERA) was held back from his start Sunday.
The A’s lose the season series (9-10) to the Angels. … Oakland ended the season with a 70-2 record when leading after seven innings. … Stephen Piscotty set career highs in home runs (27), extra-base hits (68) and RBIs (87). … Matt Olson became the fourth player in AL history to play in all 162 games at first base. … Davis went 0-for-2 before being replaced in the sixth to finish with a .247 average for the fourth straight year.