Remember those playoff predictions A’s players were making way back in January at FanFest?
Not so crazy now.
At 97 games into the season, the A’s find themselves on a roll. They’ve won 21 of 27 and have not lost back-to-back games since June 12-15. Perhaps the All-Star break came too soon for the hottest team in baseball.
“It’s been a good run,” A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty said. “I’m ready for this break, but I want to keep it rolling, so I’ll be ready to get back after it when we get back.”
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The A’s managed to pull within three games of the Seattle Mariners for the second American League wild-card spot entering the break as they look to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2014.
As they get set to resume the Bay Bridge series with three games in Oakland over the weekend, the A’s (55-42) certainly carry a ton of momentum, but here’s what needs to happen in the second half in order to turn those playoff dreams into a reality.
Get more help from the starting rotation
We know the A’s offense is potent, among the league leaders in most offensive statistical categories. They’re the only team yet to lose when leading after seven innings at 37-0. Now it’s time for the starters to step up.
The A’s starting rotation ranks in the bottom half of the league in both ERA (4.36) and innings pitched (524 2/3) through the break. The ERA isn’t as worrisome because of the offense’s propensity to score runs, but starters will need to eat up more innings on order to preserve the bullpen. Maybe it requires making a trade for a veteran starter like JA Happ or Tyson Ross. Maybe Edwin Jackson, who’s tossed at least six innings in three of his first four starts with the A’s, or Frankie Montas, who tossed at least six in five of eight, prove they can post these type of numbers for the rest of the season.
One thing is for certain, if these A’s are going to stay in this thing to the end, they’ll need more than just Sean Manaea as the guy to count on for six or seven innings of solid work each time out.
Play better at home
The A’s have been road warriors this season, 31-21 away from Oakland with a run differential of +43. It’s at the Coliseum where the A’s have struggled at times.
The A’s are still above .500 at home with a 24-21 record, but their run differential is at -19. With more home games than road games the rest of the way, the A’s will need to protect their house in order to keep up with the Mariners.
Beat the teams they’re supposed to beat
The A’s have done a good job of this so far, going 29-9 against teams under .500. If they can keep this up with the Mariners facing the fourth-hardest schedule the rest of the way, the A’s could find themselves surpassing Seattle sooner rather than later.
Based off standings at the break, the A’s are not scheduled to face a current playoff team until Aug. 7 when the Los Angeles Dodgers come to town.
Keep doing what they’ve been doing
Easier said than done, right? There hasn’t been much stability in the starting rotation, which has seen 12 different pitchers make a start for the A’s, but the offense and bullpen have both performed well on almost a daily basis basis. It’s probably a stretch to expect Blake Treinen to continue posting a sub-1.00 ERA the rest of the season, same with Piscotty blasting five home runs every nine games. But more times than not, the offense and bullpen needs to continue performing at a high level.
One guy not expected to keep doing what he’s doing – Khris Davis. The slugger is putting together his best hitting month of the season, batting .347 over 13 games in July, but has only homered once in the last 27 games. Sitting at 21 home runs at the break, Davis will look to go on another one of his monster power tears as he aims for his third straight season with 40-plus home runs.
Find a good balance with the bullpen
Treinen and Lou Trivino, the dyamic duo in the back end of the bullpen, are both expected to eclipse their career-highs for innings pitched in a season. This will be something to monitor as the A’s get to the grueling month of August and September. Yusmeiro Petit, who is on pace to lead all AL relievers in innings pitched for the second consecutive season, will likely help take some of the load off Trivino, but this will also be a time for pitchers like Ryan Buchter and Emilio Pagan to show they can also handle the eighth inning.