If I had asked you this question on August 10th, you would have laughed in my face. At that time, the Oakland Athletics had a four game lead in the American League West and pretty much everyone considered them to be a lock for the postseason. The A's were so far ahead of their division -- and baseball in general -- that people were picking them to win it all. Easily.
The Athletics have had one of the worst months in recent memory. From August 10th to September 10th, Oakland won nine games. Nine. The Athletics went 9-20 during that stretch, hitting just .231 as a team, and posting a horrific .293 on-base percentage. They hit a home run just 21 times in 1,071 plate appearances.
Their pitching has been okay. The Athletics are allowing 4 runs per game since August 10th, which isn't phenomenal by any means, but they are posting a 1.141 WHIP during that stretch, which is actually pretty good. But still, in a stretch of a month, the A's went from four up on the Angels to nine games back, losing a total of 13 games of ground in just 29 games played.
That begs the question, are the Athletics still going to make the playoffs? What has been the issue for this team, one that had turned on the engine from the beginning of the year, but cannot find its groove?
I have two words to answer the latter of the two questions: Yoenis Cespedes.
The Athletics dealt Cespedes -- perhaps the last guy I would think they would trade -- to the Red Sox to bolster their pitching staff with Jon Lester. Before the Lester-for-Cespedes trade, the Athletics averaged 5.0 runs per game and posted 109 wRC+, but since they have been a lot worse, scoring just 3.7 runs per game and posting a 93 wRC+. Billy Beane, the A's general manager, likely noticed his offense was in a funk and acquired Adam Dunn from the White Sox, trying to regain some of the power that was lost.
Since Dunn joined the team on the final day of August, the run scoring has taken a little bit of a rebound in a very small sample size. Since the First of September, the Athletics have averaged just over 4 runs per game, and while that is nowhere near where they were during the first half of the year, it is a start.
So that brings me back to the former question, can the Athletics can still make the playoffs?
I don't know. The Athletics are falling fast, but still have a 1.5 game lead over the Seattle Mariners for the top Wild Card spot and a two game lead over the Detroit Tigers for a playoff spot in general. FanGraphs.com, a fantastic website for baseball stats and projections, believes that the Athletics have a 93.7% chance to make the playoffs. I hear the exhale of Athletics fans everywhere.
But that 93.7% chance was 99.9% on August 10th. At that time, Oakland was projected to finish 97-65 and have a 16% chance to win the World Series, one that would be their fifth since moving to Oakland. Oh, how things can change in a month. The A's are now projected to finish 91-71 and have a 6% chance of winning it all. Is this slide going to cost them the World Series?
The world will never know the answer to that question, but we do know that the hot teams are usually the ones that fare well in the postseason. And the Athletics have never been colder this season. On paper, this team looks good. Really good. But it may not be enough to win the championship.