Athletics clinch second straight wild card berth, but can they keep up with AL's best?

Mark Townsend
Yahoo Sports Contributor

The Oakland Athletics have a chance to be giant killers in October.

The A’s clinched a spot in the American League wild-card game for the second straight season on Friday thanks to the Cleveland Indians’ loss to the Washington Nationals. Now, they’ll look to lock up home field advantage when they face the Tampa Bay Rays in the win-or-go-home game slated for Oct. 2. Oakland currently has a half-game lead in that race.

After winning 97 games during the 2018 regular season, the A’s were ousted by the 100-win Yankees in last season’s wild-card game. That they’ve bounced back with 95 wins this season is mighty impressive. It might even tell us that Oakland is closer to the league’s upper echelon than a typical wild-card team. They’re one wild-card win away from having a chance to prove that.

The AL winner will face off against the Houston Astros or New York Yankees in the ALDS, depending on which team locks up the No. 1 seed.

How the A’s clinched a wild card berth

“Just win, baby” is the famous motto of the Oakland Raiders. However, it’s the A’s who have put it in to practice more frequently in recent history.

Explaining how though is always a bit tricky. The A’s don’t have a high payroll or a roster loaded with superstars or top prospects. But they always seem to have a perfect mix of hitting, pitching and defense. This season, the A’s rank top eight in all three facets.

Their fourth-ranked defense has been led by the wizardry of Matt Chapman at third base and the improved play of shortstop Marcus Semien, who has turned himself into a superstar right before our eyes.

Oakland’s sixth-ranked pitching staff has been paced by a quartet of veterans, which includes Mike Fiers, Chris Bassitt, Brett Anderson and trade deadline addition Homer Bailey. Sean Manaea is back in the mix now, too, following an injury, which further strengthens this unit. In the bullpen, All-Star closer Liam Hendriks has been locking it down all season long, though if there is one concern it probably is the A’s relief corps. More on that later.

Offensively, the A’s are ranked fifth in home runs and eighth in runs scored. Seven players have hit at least 20 home runs: Matt Chapman (35), Matt Olsen (35), Marcus Semien (32), Mark Canha (26), Ramon Laureano (23), Khris Davis (23) and Jurickson Profar (20). Semien leads the team in hits (186), runs scored (122) and doubles (43).

The Oakland Athletics have clinched their second straight appearance in AL wild-card game. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

What the A’s have to do to win the World Series

Pitch and play good defense.

It sounds so simple, yet that’s exactly what has to be done.

If the A’s can get through the wild-card game, they’ll have MLB’s three highest-scoring offenses waiting for them in the playoff rounds — the Astros, Yankees and Twins. That will be quite a challenge, but the A’s held up well against all three in the regular season, going a combined 16-16.

With the firepower Oakland has on offense, keeping games close will give them an opportunity to strike fast and pull off an upset or two.

Lingering questions

As good as the A’s pitching staff has been, there are some depth concerns in the bullpen.

As noted, Hendriks has been excellent in the closer role. Yusmeiro Petit has proven reliable in the setup role. But both have been taxed during the regular season with a combined 165.1 innings thrown. They won’t be able to do it all in October.

Manager Bob Melvin will need some veterans like Joakim Soria and Ryan Buchter to step up. Perhaps moving a starter or two to the bullpen would help. But it feels like the bullpen could be an issue if needed to play a massive role.

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