How they got there: A's built for deep run

September 19th, 2020

The A’s won’t spend too much time celebrating Friday night’s accomplishment.

Reaching the postseason for a third consecutive season, which the A’s clinched on Friday night with their win over the Giants and the Mariners’ loss to the Padres, is a major achievement. Even with this year’s shortened 60-game schedule, the season is still a test of each team’s depth. That’s why the A’s happily took part in the traditional celebratory festivities that followed their win. But they have a bigger goal in mind.

After heartbreaking postseason exits in 2018 and ‘19, the A’s entered Spring Training this year determined to make noise this October. They believe they have a special group, one that can bring Oakland its first World Series title since 1989, and Friday night’s postseason clinch was just the first step in that quest.

How they were built

MLB Draft: RHP Lou Trivino, C Sean Murphy, 1B Matt Olson, 3B Matt Chapman (on IL)

International signings: None

Free agents: RHP Yusmeiro Petit, LHP T.J. McFarland, RHP Joakim Soria, RHP Jordan Weems, 3B Jake Lamb, INF Vimael Machín (Rule 5 Draft), INF Nate Orf, OF Mark Canha (Rule 5 Draft), OF Robbie Grossman

Trades: RHP Chris Bassitt, LHP Jake Diekman, RHP Mike Fiers, RHP Liam Hendriks, LHP Jesús Luzardo, LHP Sean Manaea, LHP Mike Minor, RHP Frankie Montas, RHP J.B. Wendelken, RHP Burch Smith (on IL), C Jonah Heim, INF Tommy La Stella, SS Marcus Semien, DH Khris Davis, INF/OF Tony Kemp, OF Ramón Laureano, OF Stephen Piscotty

Key offseason acquisitions

The addition of McFarland and Weems hardly moved the needle during the Hot Stove season, especially Weems, who signed as a Minor League free agent. Yet when it comes to impact, the two have played key roles in contributing to a bullpen that went from a weakness in 2019 to strength this year. The A’s bullpen entered Friday night with the lowest ERA (2.14) in the Major Leagues.

Rookies Luzardo and Murphy were not acquired this year, both impressing last year in brief September callups, though their rise to everyday roles makes them key additions to the club.

Managerial decision

A’s manager Bob Melvin should be given credit for the faith he has shown in the rookie catching tandem of Murphy and Heim. The decision not to add a veteran catcher in the offseason raised some eyebrows around the Majors. But Melvin, a former big league catcher himself, expressed his confidence in the young catching group from Day 1, believing it was more than capable to handle a Major League staff. Members of the A’s starting rotation have been complimentary of both catchers for their game-calling abilities.

Defining season stretch

The A’s swept a three-game series against the Astros at the Coliseum from Aug. 7-9, finishing off a season-high nine-game winning streak. Not only did the streak build a cushion for the A’s atop the American League West, it put the rest of the league on notice that the A’s were serious about overtaking Houston for AL West supremacy with a statement sweep.

Breakout player

Bassitt was not guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation this season. It wasn’t until Luzardo had a late start to Summer Camp and top prospect A.J. Puk went on the injured list just days before Opening Day that Bassitt secured a starting role. Now, the right-hander has blossomed into arguably the club’s top starter.

Through 10 starts, Bassitt is 4-2 and leads the club with a 2.57 ERA, having allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of those outings. His emergence will likely earn him a start in the three-game Wild Card Series.

Calling card

The A’s haven’t needed to rely on distance from their starters thanks to perhaps the best bullpen in baseball. From Hendriks, who is now one of the game’s elite closers, to veterans Petit, Soria and Diekman, all the way down to surprises like McFarland and Weems, this bullpen has consistently shut the door on opponents since the start of the season.

Memorable moment

Something wacky always seems to go down during the Bay Bridge series, and this year was no different. Entering the ninth inning of their Aug. 15 game against the Giants trailing by three -- and then down to their final strike -- the A’s rode a go-ahead three-run homer by Canha to victory. It was the second consecutive day the A’s defeated the Giants after entering the ninth trailing by multiple runs, and this one somehow topped the drama of Piscotty’s game-tying grand slam in the ninth off Trevor Gott the night before.

“We’ve got some magic going right now. I don’t really know what to say,” Canha said after the Aug. 15 win. “It’s kind of contagious. We go into the ninth inning knowing that if we just string a few at-bats together and give ourselves a chance, we like what we’re doing right now at the plate. We never say die.”