Ups And Downs With The Oakland A's

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The Oakland A's had a five-game lead in the AL West but currently sit more than 10 games behind the LA Angels. (Thearon W. Enderson/Getty Images)
The Oakland A's had a five-game lead in the AL West but currently sit more than 10 games behind the LA Angels. (Thearon W. Enderson/Getty Images)

One representative, recent story about the Oakland A's begins like this: "A's fans are entering full-on crisis mode." It's an odd way to describe a team that still has a very good chance of making the playoffs — or it would be, if Oakland hadn't had the best record in baseball as recently as Aug. 15. They've been playing at well under .500 since then.

Susan Slusser, who has covered the A’s for 16 seasons for the San Francisco Chronicle, joined Bill Littlefield.

BL: Susan, the first question has to be whether what the A's were accomplishing earlier this season was an illusion. Were they just playing over their heads?

The thing is with the A's, they're almost an all-or-nothing team.

Susan Slusser, A's beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle

SS: It's a very good team, and the A's remain a very good team. Some of it, second-half slide, has to do with injuries all at the same time. They've got a very delicately constructed roster which relies heavily on platoons and matchups. And when you start pulling out too many of those pieces with injuries, that's had a lot to do, but, you know, a lot of people point to the Yoenis Cespedes trade for Jon Lester. The A's obviously get a front-line, premier-type starting pitcher, but the offense just has not been as good since that trade.

BL: Lester, his ERA was a career-low 2.50 before the trade. He's been 2.30 in nine starts in Oakland. He does seem like a great pickup, so you really can't blame the slide on the trade. It's not really rational, is it?

SS: Well, you know, I think there would be people that would tell you what the A's needed more than another starting pitcher was maybe another bat because the offense had been erratic. But [it] certainly seemed to be functioning fairly well the last two years, making the playoffs with Cespedes in the middle. Trading him, you know, certainly was a surprise. And that sort of became an up-and-down-the-lineup problem as everyone sort of started to try to make up for games in which the A's just weren't scoring very many runs.

BL: Stretches where the A's have lost 9-of-11 games and five or six in a row notwithstanding, this team is still in contention for a wild card. But do A's fans believe their team can get there? Or at this point would they be happier to be put out of their misery?

[sidebar title="1924: When Washington Last Ruled Baseball" width="630" align="right"] Bill Littlefield speaks with Fred Frommer about the last time a team from Washington won the World Series. [/sidebar]

SS: I'm sure most fans would tell you that they'd like to get in the playoffs no matter what happens, and the thing is with the A's, they're almost an all-or-nothing team. You know, if they have enough offense to get them to the postseason — and that's the big if at this point — they have the pitching to do extraordinarily well in the playoffs. The A's have been frustrated in the Billy Beane era — only making it to the ALCS once, making the playoffs seven times, but not going to the World Series in the Billy Beane era. And many people saw this trade to get Jon Lester as the A's saying, "OK, this year we are going to try to get to the next level."

BL: Alright Susan, this is our first time speaking. But this is the time of the year when we put our guest experts, even if they're Only A Game rookies, on the spot. So, what's your prediction for how the rest of the season will play out for Oakland?

SS: It's hard to say because they've been so frustratingly close to looking like they're about to turn things around, and they have only won back-to-back games one time in the last month. And that is extraordinary. That's not a playoff team to me, so I honestly could go either way with that.

BL: Well of course if it doesn't work out for the A's, at least Oakland's fans have the Raiders to fall back on, right?

SS: Well, you know, it's a region with a lot of pro sports teams, so I think people in the Bay Area sometimes will be happy to jump on any bandwagon.
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This segment aired on September 20, 2014.


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