There is a new team sitting atop the throne in the American League West.
For the first time since 2013, the A's are AL West champions, clinching the division by virtue of the Astros' 6-1 loss to the Mariners on Monday night. After clinching a playoff berth on Friday, Oakland became the first team in Major League Baseball to win its division this season.
The division title is Oakland's third in the past nine years, marking the first time the club clinched the division with more than six games remaining in the regular season since 1990, when it wrapped up the AL West with eight games left.
The A's were off Monday in Los Angeles before the start of a three-game series with the Dodgers on Tuesday. The players could not celebrate the division clincher in the traditional sense due to Major League Baseball’s safety guidelines in place for 2020.
Still, dethroning the Astros was high atop the list of goals for the A's upon their arrival at Spring Training back in February, so A’s manager Bob Melvin made sure not to let the achievement go unnoticed.
“We had a little meeting about it. You do the best you can with it,” Melvin said. “It’s special when you win the division. As business-like as these guys have been and want to play for more, they also understand our first goal this year was winning the division. You at least have to acknowledge it and give everybody a hand.”
Instead of popping champagne bottles or going to dinner, the A’s remained in their hotel rooms, celebrating from a distance as they texted each other through a team group chat.
“This isn’t an easy feat,” A’s pitcher Sean Manaea said. “To do it how we’ve done it, always grinding it out with steady improvements over time, it’s been amazing to watch. I’m happy to be a part of this ballclub.”
Winning the division ensures the A's one of the top three seeds in the AL, which sets them up with home-field advantage in the Wild Card Series in the first round of the postseason. With seven games left in the regular season, there is still plenty to play for. Currently holding the No. 3 seed, Oakland can position itself with a higher seed if it can catch the top-seeded Rays or No. 2 White Sox.
For Melvin, the final week of the regular season will task him with finding the right balance of time off for players to rest up for the postseason, while also trying to carry a winning momentum into October.
"We’ll play it day to day on what we feel like we need to do,” Melvin said. “There are eight really good teams in the American League. I don’t see going after a potentially better matchup. They’re all going to be tough. I think it’s just as much trying to create a winning atmosphere and making sure everybody has the proper rest.”
A’s see a familiar face
A’s hitters could end up squaring off against a former teammate during this series in Blake Treinen, who is enjoying a strong season with the Dodgers.
After a dominant All-Star campaign in 2018, Treinen struggled for the A’s last season, to the point where he lost the closer role to Liam Hendriks and finished the year on the injured list. Signing with Los Angeles in the offseason, the right-hander has bounced back, holding a 3.57 ERA over 24 appearances as the setup man to Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.
“He looks like Blake to me,” Melvin said. “It’s high velocity and great movement, really difficult to hit him hard. You hope to try to drive his pitch count up and maybe find a hole with a ground ball. He is extremely talented. We saw that two years ago when he had about as good a year as I’ve ever seen a reliever have. He’s moved on to a good place for him, and I’m happy for him.”