Barber: What the A's 10-game trial by fire taught us
OAKLAND — The A’s just played 10 games, in 10 days, against American League playoff contenders. It was a grueling little preview of what may lie ahead, and when it was done on Wednesday night, I asked catcher Jonathan Lucroy how he felt about the 10-game test.
“I feel great about it,” the veteran said. “The guys have responded well. We’ve gotten our butts kicked a few times here and there. I mean, we got our butts kicked (Tuesday), but the guys came back today and responded well, and kept grinding, and kept fighting and battling and put it on ’em. So it’s a fun thing to watch.”
It really is. And while the A’s didn’t dominate those 10 games, as they had through much of July and August, they held their own against the Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees. They won five games and lost five. They scored 50 runs and gave up 51. They hit 11 home runs and surrendered 11.
In essence, the A’s proved they belong in this fraternal order. The Astros and Yankees are the teams they trail by 3½ games — Houston in the AL West, New York for the top AL wild-card spot. The Mariners are the team chasing Oakland for the second wild card. The A’s broke even with them, collectively. And they did it at the tail end of a withering stretch of 20 straight days of action.
A confidence boost?
“I think we’re past that, personally,” third baseman Matt Chapman said. “I mean, it’s good to know that you can still come out on top of those games. But I think that what we’ve done here in the second half, and how we’ve been playing, we’re just accustomed to playing like that. It’s not a good run we’ve been on. We’re a good team.”
Makes sense, but I’m guessing some members of this team did a little internal fist pump after going toe to toe with the Astros, who are the defending champions; the Mariners, who went 6-3 against the A’s in the first half of the season; and the Yankees, the marquee franchise in baseball.
Just as important, that 5-5 push demonstrated the A’s legitimacy to the rest of the league. The Yankees, in particular, must be having cluttered thoughts about the AL wild-card game. Many strange things can happen between now and early October, but as it stands, the Yankees would host the A’s in a do-or-die game in Round 1.
To put an even finer point on it, it’s entirely possible that the pitching matchup for that playoff game would be Mike Fiers vs. Luis Severino — the fizzled duel we got Wednesday. Going into that night, it was a matchup that favored New York. Fiers was coming off his first awful start since he joined the A’s in an Aug. 6 trade. Severino is a two-time All-Star who was 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA and, at 24, is one of the bright young lights in the sport.
But while Fiers was frustrating the Yankees for six-plus innings, Severino and his catcher, Gary Sanchez, were putting together a slapstick reel of wild pitches and passed balls.
They had forgotten how to execute the most basic thing you can do with a baseball: playing catch. The A’s cruised, 8-2.