This is one of our nontraditional 2018 MLB postseason previews. To see the full slate, head to our preview page.
Twitter’s a weird place. Before it became an arena for berating strangers, pleas to call your senators, or Kanye’s unhinged stream of consciousness, it was mostly a sandbox for people trying out jokes. This is one of the most popular jokes of a far more innocent time, one that still resonates to this day.
[whispering to date while watching Chappie when Chappie first appears on the screen] That's Chappie
— vineyille (@vineyille) March 23, 2015
You either find this hilarious or you don’t. I’m in the former camp, but I don’t blame you if you’re not. The more you think about it, the less sense it makes. Anyway, let’s talk about the Oakland A’s.
Very little about the A’s and their success in 2018 makes any sense to most anyone who knows anything about baseball. In fact, the more you understand the game, the less their astonishing run — sitting at 34-36 through mid-June, then going 63-29 the rest of the way — computes.
Starting pitching is supposed to be the bedrock of a contending team. Just look at the playoff teams ranked by starting pitcher WAR.
The other four AL playoff teams are all in the top six teams in baseball; the A’s are 20th. Even the Moneyball era A’s were built largely on the foundation of a sterling front of the rotation, with perennial Cy Young candidates Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito each averaging between 16-18 wins with a combined 3.18 ERA (710 ER/2,102 IP) between 2001-03.
These A’s look nothing like those. Well, except the home runs — we’ll get to that in a minute. But the rotation looks like what would happen if you’d mastered a video game so thoroughly on the hardest setting that you just traded everyone away and tried to win with only whatever minor league free agents were programmed into the game. Look, there’s Trevor Cahill making 20 starts for the first time since 2013. Hey, it’s Edwin Jackson, playing for his record 13th different MLB team after spending the first two months of the year at Triple-A Syracuse. This appears to be “Frankie Montas,” most likely a computer generated player name without an actual headshot. The only pitchers remaining on the postseason roster with more than seven wins in an A’s uniform this year are relievers.
All right, let’s talk dingers. One player in baseball has hit more than 125 home runs over the past three seasons. It’s not Nelson Cruz. It’s not Giancarlo Stanton. It’s Khris Davis — with 133 — who is producing at the rate you’d expect from Chris Davis’ contract, at the cost of Matt Wieters. He’s got true power to every field, and has hit an uncannily even distribution of his home runs in all directions.
There’s a stat called isolated power (ISO), which uses a player’s extra-base hits to help measure raw power and value, as extra-base hits are far more valuable than singles. League average ISO is around .140. Davis is above .300. But perhaps more impressively, 12 players are at .140 or above, six of them at .200 or above. Five A’s have at least 23 home runs, and the team as a whole has 227, the fifth-most in Oakland history. But they’ve also totaled 569 extra-base hits, the most ever in Athletics history; more than the Moneyball teams; more than the Bash Brothers teams; more than the threepeating, Swingin’ A’s of the early 70s.
They also won more games than any team in the National League, even the ones that got a 163rd game. Yep — the A’s have been so good that if, somehow, they survive the American League gauntlet to make the World Series for the first time since 1990, no matter who they play, they will have home field advantage.
As I tried to tell anyone who could listen, this team can mash. The only question was whether the pitching would hold them back. Instead, the A’s discovered a salvation in an incredible, ever-growing set of bullpen arms, and an increased willingness to use them whenever and wherever necessary.
Nats fans will find an unrecognizable, cyborg model of Blake Treinen, who has harnessed his divebombing, 98-mile-per-hour sinker into one of the most unhittable pitches in baseball.
Treinen just posted the lowest ERA (0.78) in the history of baseball for any pitcher to throw at least 75 innings, and will be garnering Cy Young votes this year. He leads a bullpen full of young flamethrowers you’ve never heard of like Lou Trivino (8-3, 2.92 ERA, 10 K/9 IP) alongside former closers Fernando Rodney and Jeurys Familia. The A’s posted the third-lowest ERA of any bullpen in the bigs. Their job is to keep things close enough for the zombie lineup, which is never dead until the last out.
The #Athletics have overcome deficits of four or more runs to win eight times this year (eight runs once, six runs once, five runs twice and four runs four times), which are the most such wins in one season by an A’s team since the 1949 Philadelphia A’s also had eight.
— Mike Selleck (@MikeSelleck) July 26, 2018
OK, let’s get back to Chappie. There’s a reason I used that particular absurd tweet of all the available absurd tweets on America’s second-favorite outrage social network (don’t worry, Facebook, you’re still the champ!). The team’s best player, one of the best players in baseball, is fresh-faced, 25-year-old third baseman Matt Chapman. He’s a powerful hitter with a keen eye who is actually posting a higher wRC+ than Davis. But it’s his defense that sets him apart — by most accounts, he plays the best defense at the hot corner in a golden generation of third basemen. He does stuff like this.
— Oakland A's (@Athletics) March 30, 2018
— Athletics Brasil (@AthleticsBrasil) August 1, 2018
That’s Chappy — his actual nickname (yes, spelled slightly differently, but pronounced the same). It helps that the team is leaning into the joke, rather than trying to avoid the association, embracing the bizarre and nonsensical season that has led to Wednesday’s AL Wild Card Game in the Bronx. Appreciating just what the A’s have done this year requires looking at everything you thought you knew about baseball through a kaleidoscopic lens, revealing our ever-unraveling world, of the absurdity of it all.
Sure, Oakland’s postseason will probably only last nine innings, or however long Wednesday’s contest goes. It feels silly to ask anything of a team that has already given so much more than it had any business doing. Then again, they’re not supposed to be here at all. Might as well celebrate as long as it lasts.
Matt Chapman for the win 😂 pic.twitter.com/5ybiX98nTP
— Ben Ross (@BenRossTweets) September 25, 2018