Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (Sept. 19, 2018 – Source: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North America)
As mentioned in yesterday’s article, the American League playoff picture is completely set. The New York Yankees will face the Oakland Athletics in the wild card round, and the Red Sox will face the winner of said matchup. We already profiled the Yankees, but what should the Red Sox expect if the Oakland Athletics come to travel to Boston? In this installment of the Boston Red Sox playoff primer, we take a look at the surprisingly dominant Oakland Athletics.
The Oakland Athletics: Boston Red Sox Playoff Primer
The Athletics Offense
Somewhat out of nowhere, the A’s have one of the best offenses in the league. Despite the lack of common superstar names, players like Khris Davis, Matt Chapman, and even old friend Jed Lowrie are in the midst of some fantastic seasons.
Khris Davis is having perhaps his finest season in a career full of great ones. On the season, the designated hitter is slashing .247/.326/.546 with an accompanying 134 wRC+. He has a career-best 47 home runs this season and is truly one of the most underrated players in the game.
A big reason for the A’s success this year is 25-year old third baseman, Matt Chapman. The 2014 first-round pick is in the midst of his first full-time major league season, and he’s already one of the brighter young stars in baseball. Chapman is currently hitting .280/.357/.512 with a 138 wRC+. He has gotten a little lucky with a .340 BABIP, but there’s no denying his talent. Factor in his strong defense and baserunning and Chapman very well could be the most valuable player on this team.
In all, this overperforming offense currently rests in a four-way tie for the best wRC+ in baseball (110, tied with the Yankees, Astros, and Red Sox). They’re third in slugging percentage, third in home runs, and fourth in runs scored. While they may not have the big names of the Yankees and Red Sox, this offense is more than capable of going blow for blow with any team in the playoffs.
While the Oakland offense is one of the best units in baseball, their starting pitching is anything but. While they don’t have any outright disasters on the roster, Oakland doesn’t have a true ace a la Chris Sale.
Sean Manaea is the top arm in the A’s rotation, and he’s having a solid, yet unspectacular year. In 160.2 innings, Manaea has a 3.59 ERA and a 4.26 FIP. As a unit, Oakland’s starting pitchers rank 18th in ERA (4.17) and 20th in FIP (4.39). If there’s a weak link to this Athletics team, it’s definitely their starting rotation.
Oakland’s bullpen, meanwhile, is a very different story. The A’s have one of the better bullpens in the league. As a unit, Oakland’s bullpen currently ranks fourth in ERA (3.38) and 11th in FIP (3.92). While the unit has been slightly lucky over the year, it’s still a strong unit from top to bottom.
Leading the bullpen is the phenomenal Blake Treinen. Treinen has been nothing short of amazing for the Athletics, posting a 0.79 ERA and a 1.85 FIP in 79.1 innings pitched. Treinen is 2018’s best reliever, and it’s not particularly close. If the Red Sox find themselves trailing in the ninth innings, the game is basically over.
Unfiltered Thoughts on the Oakland Athletics
Oakland has one of the few offenses capable of matching the Red Sox on a hit-for-hit basis. Led by Khris Davis and Matt Chapman, the A’s boast a league-best 110 wRC+ with just days left in the regular season. On the other side of the ball, Blake Treinen is pitching like Mariano Rivera and is the probably the best closer in baseball this year.
However, if there’s a weakness to this Oakland team, it’s the starting pitching. They don’t have a truly elite arm, and each starter can be beaten. If the Red Sox end up facing Oakland, they’ll need to make sure to beat up on Oakland’s starters early and often.
If the ALDS takes place against Oakland, look for the Red Sox to be the favorites. While the Sox bullpen is weaker, they have the better starting pitching and a slightly better offense. Additionally, the A’s will be tired from the Wild Card game and playing all the way through the season, while the Red Sox have essentially taken the month of September off. Look for the Red Sox to advance to the ALCS in four games.