OAKLAND — Those barnstorming Oakland A’s are the perfect tonic for the dog days of August. As pitching arms grow weary, scores climb into double digits and positions in the standings calcify, baseball can appreciate the diversion of an unexpected upstart.
The Athletics have delivered. On June 15 they were 34-36 and 11 games behind Seattle in the wild-card playoff race. They then put together an unignorable hot streak, shot past the Mariners into postseason position and captivated the pundits.
And now, with Seattle arriving Monday for a three-game stint, they’ve brought the playoff race home. It has been an unexpected gift to the Bay Area.
And it raises an important question:
Can we forgive the A’s?
Is this, in other words, enough to make up for a laundry list of cynical decisions and a skinflint payroll model?
It has been a bitter relationship. Ownership has shipped out talented, fan-favorite players because they were due for a significant salary bump. Sometimes they have gotten prospects and sometimes a bag of magic beans. Nor have they been willing to spend for promising free agents.
And, as minuscule crowds — second-lowest attendance in MLB in 2017 — rattle around in the dreary Oakland Mausoleum, we are reminded that not only do they not have a location for a new ballpark, we haven’t heard about one in months. What more is there to study at Jack London Square? This looks suspiciously like a project going nowhere.
But c’mon. The team is winning. (And almost as good for the A’s, the Giants are not, so attention isn’t diverted.) This is the most excited people have been about the green and gold since the latest playoff run in 2014.
How can you not appreciate a team that finished last in its division in the previous three years and now has caught lightning in a bottle?
Can we just let bygones be and forgive the A’s?
Sure. Certainly as far as what’s happening on the field, sign me up for a big foam finger. But, spoiler alert, there’s a “however” coming.
I remain a fan of manager Bob Melvin, who has soldiered on through the roster churn, the shabby conditions and the tiny crowds. Occasionally, after another starter was shipped out in a late season fire sale, Melvin had the look of a man who wished he hadn’t eaten that second hot dog.
But overall he’s been steady and supportive. If he gets this team to the playoffs with this bare-bones payroll, BoMel better start clearing a space for his third Manager of the Year trophy.
As for the players, designated hitter Khris Davis not only hits home runs, he does it in big moments. In his first full big-league season, third baseman Matt Chapman — called “the biggest playoff race superstar you know nothing about” by Bleacher Report — is so comfortable in interviews that Melvin jokes he is thinking “another career path.”
Outfielder Mark Canha started the season wearing a face warmer because it was cold in Seattle. He hit a home run, so he wore the lucky scarf for another week, just for the potential positive juju.
In short, this is a roster that could grow on you.
Now, at some point the argument may be made that this is what the A’s could have done all along. That if they’d held on to top players and augmented them with top draft picks like Chapman, they could have been winning like this consistently.