If there’s any team in the MLB that looked like a lock for the Wild Card spot over the past couple months, it was the Oakland A’s. But with less than two months remaining in the regular season, they’ll have to battle it out with the Tampa Bay Rays (and Cleveland Indians, and maybe even the Red Sox) if they want to hang on to the second Wild Card position.
Leading the AL West, the Houston Astros are 10 games ahead of the A’s, while the third place Texas Rangers are seven games behind. Oakland made a few trades before the deadline to give them an edge as we head toward the postseason, but will it be enough? Here’s a look at what the A’s have been up to and the challenges they face as they stare down that tricky Wild Card spot.
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They Traded for Tanner Roark (at the last minute)
The A’s made a good deal at the trade deadline and now they’ve got themselves a stable starting pitcher in former Cincinnati Reds player Tanner Roark. Just hours before the cut-off time, they acquired the 32-year-old veteran who’ll fit right into the middle of their rotation. Oakland needed the extra depth and Roark has a reliable arm. He’ll become their sixth established starter and most importantly, he’ll give them some much-needed confidence if another pitcher gets injured over the next two months.
Roark has a few intangibles too. The A’s are hoping he’ll bring his renowned work ethic, professionalism, and clubhouse presence to Oakland. Guys who’ve played with Roark in the past have called him “the best” teammate. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season though, so this is purely a rental for the A’s.
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The downsides of the Roark trade? Fans and experts argue that Roark is only the third-best arm in the A’s rotation, with Mike Fiers and Brett Anderson being the top pitchers on the team. Oakland also traded away their 2018 second-round draft pick, outfielder Jameson Hannah, to get him. Many consider that a pretty high price to pay. It doesn’t help that Roark has arguably been in a slump as of late, which obviously isn’t the best time to be acquiring him.
On the other hand, some say A’s fans will shut up if Roark can just help them win a playoff series.
He’s not the only pitcher joining the team though. Earlier in the month, Oakland added more padding to their pitching staff with right-hander Homer Bailey and left-handed reliever Jake Diekman, both from the Kansas City Royals. (And don’t forget the A’s also signed that fan who pitched a 96-mph fastball at a Rockies game this summer!)
Challenges Facing the A’s
The addition of Roark to the mix shows that the A’s are not content with their second place status in the AL West. Too bad the Astros made even bigger moves at the end of the month by landing top D-Backs pitcher Zack Greinke, probably the biggest pitcher to move at the deadline. So despite hoping this trade would make them more competitive within the division, the A’s will have to contend heightened competition from the top dogs.
So the Astros remain the looming threat over the horizon. Houston swept them back in late May/early June, and the A’s only got one game on them in their July series. We’ll see if they can’t do better in the coming weeks when they face the Astros again in two more four-game series. Oakland really needs to rack up some wins if they want to edge out the Rays and clinch that Wild Card spot.
As for pitching, aside from Roark, the A’s still have Fiers, Anderson, Homer Bailey, Daniel Mengden, and Chris Bassitt. They’re also hoping that Sean Manaea and Marco Estrada will return from lengthy injuries soon. But that’s still up in the air.
One more challenge? The A’s have a tough schedule over the next few weeks – including several games against the Astros and the Yankees – and they can’t afford to lose any ground if they want to keep hopes alive for a second straight postseason appearance. The silver lining, however, is that if Oakland can just keep it together through the next four series, many of their final games of the season are against teams sitting at less than .500 and others who are several games out of the playoff race.
The Oakland A’s face the Chicago White Sox this weekend before taking on the San Francisco Giants next week. And then on August 15th-18th, we’ll see them battle the Astros in four very important division games. We’ve got tickets. Get yourself out to the ballgame!
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