The 2020 Oakland Athletics put themselves at the top of the American League West at the beginning of the season. By landing the division’s playoff berth, they challenged any team to try and knock them off. Lucky for the Athletics, no other AL West team could even join them above .500.
Oakland’s momentum was palpable going into the postseason. And then everything came crashing to a halt as a sub-.500 division rival took them down.
The Oakland Athletics
2020: Record: 36 – 24
2020 Finish: 1st in the AL West, 3rd in the American League
Surprises in 2020
Let’s talk about the Oakland Athletics pitching, shall we? First, the starters who stood out in 2020. The debut of Jesus Luzardo was solid. While he certainly has some kinks to work out, things look to be right on track. However, it was Chris Bassitt who stole the spotlight.
Bassitt is no stranger to A’s fans, and was coming off a solid 2019 campaign that saw him bounce back in his first full season after Tommy John surgery. Finding himself somewhere in the middle of the rotation over the last few years, the shortened season offered Bassitt the chance to shine, a chance he took. Far and away the best starter in this A’s rotation, perhaps the best example of how locked-in Bassitt was is his September splits.
In the final month of the season, as the A’s chased the Tampa Bay Rays for the top spot in the AL, Bassitt went 3–0 in four starts, allowing only one run in 26 2⁄3 innings. That’s dominance.
The A’s had multiple relievers with sub-2.00 ERAs, but Diekman and Hendriks stand out for different reasons. In 21.1 innings of work last season Jake Diekman was unreal. How? The Athletics lefty only allowed EIGHT hits over that span. That’s insanity. The only other pitcher who has a similar stat line is Devin Williams from Milwaukee. Yes, the same Devin Williams who won the NL Rookie of the Year. Diekman was lights out.
But where it counts, Liam Hendriks was the closer of the year in 2020. Dominance doesn’t begin to describe Hendrik’s season, as he converted 14 of his 15 save opportunities for the A’s. The 2020 AL Reliever of the Year finished the year with a 1.78 ERA and a 0.671 WHIP. Just absolute nonsense.
Disappointments in 2020
There’s a lot that Athletics fans can be disappointed about, but for most of them there’s also a silver lining that evens things out.
Frankie Montas wasn’t elite post-PEDs, but Chris Bassitt shows up. The bats were all but dead, coming in at 14th in the AL for average, but pitching put them over the top. There’s a lot of things that could’ve been worse, but at the end of the day weren’t that big of a problem.
However, you simply cannot lead the division all season, only to narrowly avoid getting swept by the Astros, and get left in the ALDS. That’s not going to fly with anyone.
And at the end of the day, that’s the biggest disappointment here. Sure you can chalk the defeat up to the absence of Matt Chapman‘s bat, the poor performance from the rotation, and the fact that the Astros got hot at the right time, but that seems to miss the point.
The Athletics, in a shortened season, sprinted for 60 games and then failed to win 3 against Houston, a division rival, who came within one game of returning to the World Series for a second straight season. That’s unacceptable. That’s a big disappointment.
Looking Ahead to 2021
The A’s lost Hendriks, and will likely lose Marcus Semien to free agency as well. Thanks in part to the pandemic, the A’s don’t seem interested in spending a ton this offseason.
The good news, however, is that the majority of the team remains intact heading into next season. The AL West is still very much in a renovation phase as the Astros, Angels, and Mariners rebuild their rosters and farm system. The A’s have had the good fortune of playing that game for the last few seasons, and no one rebuilds on a budget better than Oakland.
If there’s a team who can threaten Oakland’s Western crown, it’ll be a team with magic and gusto on their side. Otherwise, the Athletics look poised to run the division back.
Projected 2021 Finish: 95-67, 1st in the AL West
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