They had to do it – and they did. Despite all the recent frustration and ineptitude and heartache, and despite going an embarrassing 16-30 since August 10, Oakland's 4-0 win over the Texas Rangers clinched a postseason berth on the regular season's last day.
After 162 games, fifty-one series, eleven road trips, and eleven home stands over twenty-six grueling weeks, the A's today grabbed the American League's second and last wild-card spot. They face the Royals in Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday evening; the winner goes on to face the Angels in a best-of-five division series that begins on Thursday.
Sonny Gray bookended the season in impressive fashion. Back on opening day – doesn't March 31 seem like it belongs to another era? – Gray threw six scoreless innings. On Sunday, he allowed just six hits en route to a complete-game shutout. That means at least two things: the A's can feel good about (finally) doing everything right in a decisive, lopsided win; and manager Bob Melvin can draw upon a rested bullpen in Kansas City.
And then there's the fear factor, or rather the absence of one, perhaps, beginning today. The A's no longer have to fear a humiliating collapse. All signs pointed toward a gigantic, unprecedented late-season swoon, but Melvin and his men gutted it out and persevered. The process was excruciating and often dispiriting, but that particular ordeal is over, and the A's are, and can proudly think of themselves as, a playoff team. Now the page turns and a new kind of season begins – albeit one that hinges on Tuesday's all-important showdown.
* Complain all you like about the one-game wild-card playoff, but the fact remains: if the pre-2012 wild-card system were still operative, Oakland's season would have ended today. (Back then, only one wild-card team from each league advanced to the postseason.)
* The A's won't have to square off against the Detroit Tigers, who have eliminated the A's from the postseason each of the past two seasons, until (potentially) the ALCS. That's got to be a welcome change. Time to let some other club – i.e., the Orioles – try to figure out that pitching staff.
* The flight from the Arlington area of Texas to Kansas City is only ninety minutes, and the two cities are in the same (Central) time zone. So the A's don't have to deal with a long flight or jet lag. Every little thing counts.
* Why does it always seem like AL clubs get less rest than their NL counterparts in the postseason? The NL wild-card game won't be held until Wednesday. Oakland's Josh Donaldson, for one, certainly could have used that extra day's rest.
* Jon Lester, the Athletics' glittering if controversial mid-season acquisition, starts on Tuesday. He'll have more of an impact on that game than Cespedes, if he were still around, would have. While I don't think a dominating performance by Lester will move fans who hated the trade to suddenly embrace it, it will no doubt quiet the naysayers.
* James Shields, the Royal's scheduled starter, is a right-hander. The A's have not fared well against left-handed pitching. Against Shields the A's can and will play their bevy of left-handed sluggers: Adam Dunn, Brandon Moss, Stephen Vogt, and the red-hot Josh Reddick.
Posted by C.S. Soong