If you don’t think the Oakland Athletics are baseball’s best story going right now, then I’m not sure what to tell you.
The Houston Astros arrived in Oakland Friday with a shrinking American League West lead, and now they’re faced with salvaging the third and final game of their current head-to-head matchup just to stay in first place. There have been a number of surprising team performances thus far in 2018 — the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are a couple that come to mind — but this is definitely the one just about nobody expected.
After all, the A’s own the league’s third-lowest payroll right now and had just a 9.5% chance of making the playoffs prior to this season starting, according to FanGraphs. That’s also why they play the game, folks.
The Astros have mostly been a constant at the top of AL West standings, but this division has also experienced a quick start (before the inevitable fade) from the Los Angeles Angels and another surprising run to contention by the Seattle Mariners.
Oakland has persevered through it all to a 74-49 record heading into Sunday’s games. If we count the very start of the season, it’s been a while since the A’s have known what this feeling is like.
If we’re talking about being in first place this late in the season, though, it’s been a much longer drought.
This was the year Oakland went for it with some bold moves at the non-waiver trade deadline, one of them bringing Jon Lester to their rotation. Unfortunately, they faded down the stretch before eventually losing the AL Wild-Card playoff game to the Kansas City Royals.
Now that Matt Chapman, Trevor Cahill, Matt Olson, and company have a share of first place, it’s fun to take a quick look back to see how far they’ve come in a relatively short period of time. Two months ago, the thought of Oakland winning the division was an absolute pipe dream.
On June 19th, the Athletics were just 37-36, had a 5.0% chance of making the playoffs, and a 0.0% chance of winning the division, according to FanGraphs. They needed an insane run to get back into contention. A 37-13 stretch over their past 50 games would qualify as such.
Only the Boston Red Sox (124) have put together a better cumulative wRC+ than the A’s (117) during this span of time, while their 3.46 team ERA is fourth-best in baseball.
How much longer can manager Bob Melvin‘s club keep this up? We’ll find out in due time, but it’s awesome that they’ve risen from basically nowhere to give the defending champs a run for their money over the final month-and-a-half of the regular season.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book about how to become a sports blogger. You can sign up for his email newsletter here.