OAKLAND -- The A’s arrived to Spring Training a determined bunch that was ready to atone for previous October failures with a goal of making a run at a World Series title. That quest is now officially underway after taking a big first step on Friday night.
With a 6-0 victory over the Giants at the Coliseum, the A’s clinched a spot in the postseason for a third consecutive season. The postseason berth is their sixth in the last nine years. Only the Dodgers (eight) have reached the playoffs more times over that span.
Now that Oakland has clinched a playoff spot, the next step is to supplant the Astros as kings of the American League West. With Houston losing to Arizona on Friday, the A’s shrunk their magic number to clinch the division to two.
Oakland could clinch the division as early as Saturday, now holding a lead of seven games over Houston with nine games left in the regular season. It would be a major accomplishment, as the A’s have not captured the AL West crown since 2013.
“I think we have a lot bigger goals,” Friday’s starter, Chris Bassitt, said. “This team is extremely hungry for a lot bigger things than just the playoffs. It’s awesome, but we basically just acted like it was another game. I think once we win the division, there might be a little celebration.”
The A’s have plenty to celebrate, as their achievement Friday did not come easy. They’ve had to overcome the loss of a couple of key pieces to their success, with no loss larger than their emotional leader and star third baseman Matt Chapman, whose season ended abruptly on Saturday after it was determined he would require hip surgery.
But while some players have gone down with injuries or underperformed, others have stepped up their game to keep the engine rolling on the A’s season. A prime example would be Bassitt, who continued to make his case for a start in the Wild Card Series by blanking the Giants over 6 2/3 innings.
Bassitt, who did not secure a spot in the rotation until late in Summer Camp due to a late arrival by Jesús Luzardo and injury to top prospect A.J. Puk, has transformed into arguably the top pitcher in Oakland’s starting rotation. The right-hander now holds a 2.57 ERA through 10 starts after Friday’s stellar performance, which ranks fifth-lowest among American League starting pitchers.
Holding the Giants scoreless on three hits and no walks while striking out seven over the 6 2/3 frames, Bassitt has now allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of his outings.
“He’s been absolutely terrific,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “You look at his overall numbers, his ERA, everything he’s done in a short season. He’s probably the guy who got off to the latest start in Summer Camp, but he deserves all the accolades. He’s a bona fide big league starter right now, and he had to work hard to get there.”
The worries of how the A’s would overcome the absence of Chapman on offense have been alleviated with the arrival of newcomer Jake Lamb, who continues to be a force at the plate since signing with the club earlier this week.
Lamb got the scoring started for the A’s on Friday night with an RBI single for a 1-0 lead in the first, finishing 1-for-4 on the night. Designated for assignment by the D-backs after collecting just five hits over 18 games, Lamb is now 6-for-15 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs through his first four games with the A’s.
"He’s been incredible for us,” Bassitt said. “Big hit after big hit. I don’t know how we got him, honestly. He is truly incredible.
“I’ve heard other guys who played with him and against him say if he’s healthy, he’s an All-Star, and dang, does he look healthy. I think we got a steal with him.”
A change of scenery can often do wonders for a struggling ballplayer, and that certainly seems to be the case for Lamb through his first week with the club. The infielder has drawn inspiration from being thrust into the middle of the playoff race, while also looking to prove to doubters that he is better than the numbers have shown over his past three seasons with Arizona, which saw him bat .199 over 152 games.
“I think there’s motivation all over the place,” Lamb said. “The DFA and how this year went for me, it’s some of the most motivation I’ve ever had. To join these guys and be pushing for a World Series, it’s all the motivation I need.”