Real or Not? The Oakland A's will be a playoff team

ByDavid Schoenfield ESPN logo
Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Some nights, this happens, and your faithful blogger needs more screens to follow all the action:

In the end, however, Game of the Night honors has to go to the Oakland Athletics for rallying from a 10-2 deficit to beat the Rangers 13-10 in 10 innings. It was even more dramatic than that, because the A's trailed 10-2 entering the seventh inning. Teams had won 761 consecutive games when leading by eight runs entering the seventh since the Red Sox lost 15-9 to the Yankees on April 12, 2012 (yes, that was during the disastrous Bobby Valentine season).

The A's scored three in seventh, four in the eighth and tied it on Stephen Piscotty's home run in the ninth as Keone Kela blew his first save of the season after 23 in a row. In the 10th, Khris Davis did this:

Fun fact from my friends at ESPN Stats & Information: The Rangers had been 471-0 in franchise history, including 429-0 since moving to Texas, when leading by eight runs in the seventh. Congrats, Rangers fans, you saw something you'd never seen before.

The A's are 25-7 since June 16, the best record in the majors, and as they've closed the gap on the Mariners in the wild-card race, they look like the better, deeper team right now. The lineup is clearly superior. Just look at some of the OBP issues in the Seattle lineup and you can see why the A's have scored 52 more runs. The Mariners have closer Edwin Diaz, but the A's can match him with Blake Treinen and then throw in Lou Trivino and now Jeurys Familia. The Mariners might have the small edge in starting pitching (4.06 rotation ERA versus 4.30), but James Paxton was supposed to come off the DL to start against the Giants on Tuesday and was held back because of lingering soreness, and also you have to wonder when the Wade LeBlanc bubble will burst.

The Mariners will probably add a bat -- the latest rumor had them getting Starlin Castro and moving Dee Gordon back to center field. When Robinson Cano returns in mid-August, he would presumably get some work at first base. The A's have already churned through 12 starting pitchers. Maybe Billy Beane finds another one at the trade deadline.

My pick, on July 24: The A's will take that second wild card. I like where that offense is going and I like that late-game bullpen trio.

#weirdbaseball in Philly: We'll sum up the Dodgers-Phillies game like this. In the 16th inning, the Phillies used a starting pitcher in relief (Vince Velasquez). The Dodgers used a position player (Enrique Hernandez). The Phillies won on Trevor Plouffe's walk-off home run (who knew Plouffe was a Phillie now?):

Props to Gabe Kapler. One thing that reliably bugs me is when teams will go to a position player with the score tied when the game extends deep into extra innings. Think about all the money and effort teams deploy to add even one extra win of value. In fact, everything that happens at the trade deadline, all the rumors and phone calls and trades that do eventually happen are often about finding just one extra win out there, maybe two if you get an All-Star caliber player (or three if you add Manny Machado).

Then we hit extra innings and, screw it, just put in the position player. I get it: It's a long season, one win probably won decide anything, you don't want to risk a pitcher's health, maybe you'll get lucky and win anyway. In this game, Kapler played it the right way. The Phillies are much more likely to need that one win than the Dodgers. Sensing that the Dodgers were out of relievers unless Kenley Jansen returned for the bottom of the 16th, he brought in Velasquez, who had thrown 87 pitches just two days ago. It was a risk worth taking.

Roberts, who burned through three relievers in the ninth to get three outs (never a good idea to burn through three pitchers in short order like that knowing extra innings loom ahead), elected to pinch hit for Jansen (who had thrown 19 pitches after throwing 19 the night before) with a runner on first and two outs. Austin Barnes walked, but Logan Forsythe struck out. That left Hernandez to pitch and to suffer the loss. Hernandez is now the only position player in the expansion era (since 1961) to allow a walk-off home run.

An old-time baseball performance: The complete game shutout has gone the way of Twinkies and Ding Dongs: They're still out there, they're just a little harder to find. Masahiro Tanaka threw one Tuesday night for the Yankees, blanking the Rays on three hits with nine strikeouts in a 4-0 victory. It was just the 16th complete-game shutout of 2018 and that includes the six-inning, rain-shortened one Trevor Williams threw for the Pirates on Monday.

Those 16 shutouts have come from 16 different starting pitchers. The lowest league-leading total for a season is three shutouts, including last year when Corey Kluber and Ervin Santana both threw three, but it's obviously possible and maybe likely that no pitcher gets to three this season.

So Tanaka's performance definitely deserves a standing ovation. He induced 17 swings and misses, his second-highest total of the season, and recorded strikes on 74 of 105 pitches. It's perhaps worth noting that the game came with Austin Romine behind the plate and not Gary Sanchez, who mysteriously landed on the DL because of a strained groin after not hustling on a game-ending grounder that he should have beaten out.

(It's also worth noting that with Sanchez behind the plate, the Yankees have given up 3.79 runs per nine innings. With Romine catching, the Yankees have given up 3.83 runs per inning. So, despite all the criticism Sanchez receives for his defense, there isn't clear evidence that he hurts the Yankees. And before you go that route, Sanchez has caught Luis Severino 10 times with a 2.67 ERA, and Romine has caught him nine times with a 2.66 ERA. A deeper dive into pitch framing and other specifics might show some other issues, but I wouldn't necessarily expect Sanchez to lose his job once he returns from the DL.)

Anyway, not that you need more evidence of the decline in importance of the starting pitcher, but the Yankees acquired Zach Britton from the Orioles to add even more depth to a bullpen that already leads the majors with a 2.75 ERA. It sort of makes sense: There probably aren't any difference-making starting pitchers out there, so just add as many relievers as you can and bullpen your way through the rest of the season and the postseason.

I can envision a scenario where the Yankees carry only Severino, Tanaka and CC Sabathia on the postseason roster and go with nine or even 10 relievers. Catching the Red Sox is going to be difficult. They're five games back and FanGraphs gives the Red Sox about a 2-to-1 edge to win the division, so the Yankees have to think about planning ahead for that wild-card game and then a division series against the Red Sox or Astros. Getting another lefty to match up against a Red Sox team that hasn't hit lefties as well as righties makes sense. In fact, you could see the Yankees potentially "bullpenning" the wild-card game -- similar to last year when Severino was knocked out early -- and having Severino ready to start twice in the division series.

OK, we're getting way ahead of things. Until then, a big thank you to Tanaka for reminding as that one pitcher can still sometimes go the distance.

The other big comeback: The Brewers trailed the Nationals 4-0, got back in the game when pitcher Junior Guerra doubled to start a three-run rally in the fifth, tied it in the seventh and then won with their seventh walk-off victory (tied for second in the majors):

The Brewers now have five wins when trailing by at least four runs -- only the A's with seven have more. You have to love that late-inning magic -- and a reminder how bullpen depth can help a team stay in a game and pull out those late-game wins.

J.D. Martinez stat of the night: He homered twice in a 7-6 loss to the Orioles -- no truth to the rumor that losses against the Orioles now count as two losses -- giving us this:

All that, and we didn't even mention the Pirates' 11th win a row (for the first time for them since 1996) ... or Clay Buchholz stifling the Cubs ... or ANOTHER Cardinals rookie (Austin Gomber) making his first major league start and taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning ... or the Astros winning with six runs in the 10th ... or the Mariners losing on a two-out error in the ninth ... yes, it was a crazy night of baseball.

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