It's really hard to play winning baseball for two straight years. The A's attempted to do that this season. They've been largely successful with it.
But, GM Billy Beane doesn't want to fool with your possibilities. He wanted to make sure his team had the pitching to get to the next level. So, he traded for Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and Jon Lester in two separate deals. He traded away outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and, now, the offense is suddenly struggling while two of his three pitching acquisitions have disappointed.
Houston faces the 1-2 punch of that Cubs trade Monday and Tuesday, with Shark up first before Hammel pitches the middle game in this three-game set.
But, far from the juggernaut that threatened Houston earlier this season, these A's seem vulnerable. They are not the A's that seemed destined for the World Series. They seem more beatable and here's why:
- The A's have been terrible on the road lately. They've lost five straight on the road and have now fallen behind the mighty Angels of Anaheim in the AL West standings.
- Oakland is safely ensconced in the middle of the pack offensively over the past two weeks. They have a wRC+ as a team of 96 and a batting line of .243/.299/.395 over that stretch.
- In that same stretch, Oakland has the ninth-worst FIP in baseball at 4.13 and the ninth-worst ERA at 4.32.
- Oakland's 46 runs over that stretch rank behind 20 other teams in baseball.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call a slump. But, view it from the bigger picture for a minute. This swoon happens so closely after a couple bold trades by Billy Beane blew up the existing A's status quo. Yes, they brought in Shark, but he's been the epitome of average with a 4.07 ERA and a 4.09 FIP in nine starts and 59 innings.
Hammel has been no better.
Lester's the ace to fix what ails the A's, but what ails them is also part of this trade. If Samardzija pitched like he did in the easier National League? If Hammel soaked up more innings at a better-than-abysmal rate?
Oakland still sits pretty in a playoff series. Having Sonny Gray, Jon Lester and Scott Kazmir all pitching well gives them depth. Most teams would kill to have Shark as the No. 4 playoff guy on a team.
Right now, though? The Astros will be playing a shell of the Oakland team that had the baseball world on fire a month or so ago.
Those two trades were supposed to put the A's into the postseason for sure. Now, they may be what keeps them out of the playoffs entirely.