The Oakland A’s really can throw a curve, or stay ahead of one. From the groundbreaking green and gold uniforms with white shoes to the trendsetting “Moneyball” phase, they always have been unconventional. Even their consistencies are wacky: Slugger Khris Davis has batted exactly .247 in each of the past four seasons.
Now they are at it again. For the American League wild-card game at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night, the A’s are expected to become the first postseason team to intentionally use its bullpen for an entire game.
It will not be an entirely revolutionary experience. The Yankees’ bullpen worked 8 2⁄3 innings in the wild-card victory last year, but that was by accident. Luis Severino was pulled with one out in the first inning after allowing three runs to the Twins. But this, if it does happen, will be different.
A’s manager Bob Melvin will make his announcement at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, having hinted over the weekend that his choice will be righthanded reliever Liam Hendriks. Whoever it is will follow Melvin to the podium for the traditional starting pitcher’s news conference. That could last longer than his outing will.
“I think there’s definitely going to be a lot more scrutiny on it,” Hendriks told the San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday. He said if the A’s lose, “that [pitching arrangement] will be the reason. And if it does work, that will be the reason as well. Everything is going to be amplified.”
Maybe the A’s would have gone the customary route, with a regular starter, if Sean Manaea were healthy. Manaea no-hit the Red Sox in April but recently said his shoulder was hurting when he did it. He had shoulder surgery Sept. 19.
Another option would have been to use a member of the rotation in a “bridge” role, from the second through the middle innings, as the Rays do. But Mike Fiers, the most logical candidate, failed in that role Friday. Daniel Mengden, who started 17 games this season, is headed to Arizona to prepare for a potential Division Series appearance.
So the A’s could arrive in the Bronx with a staff of 11 relievers and the hope of delivering the game to star closer Blake Treinen (38 saves, 0.78 ERA). The first one to get a crack could be Hendriks, who scuffled so much early in the season that the A’s designated him for assignment in June.
He said he sharpened his mechanics in the minors and has gained 6 mph on his fastball, which now hits 98. Hendriks is a 29-year-old Australian who has changed organizations seven times (waived twice) and apparently has found his niche as a first- and occasionally also second-inning specialist. No one has scored on him in his past seven outings as the “opener.”
The downside of using a fleet of relievers is the chance that any of them could be off his game. The wild-card game could go kerflooey if Melvin hands the ball to Jeurys Familia, who allowed nine hits and seven walks in 11 1⁄3 September innings, or Fernando Rodney, who had an 8.38 September ERA. The A’s probably will lean more on the likes of J.B. Wendelken, 25, who was called up Aug. 30 and had an 0.54 ERA.
There is no telling what the A’s have up their colorful sleeves. They specialize in doing unusual stuff, such as winning 97 games despite beginning the season with the majors’ lowest payroll. Or having the major-league home run leader, who amazingly finishes with the same batting average every season.
What are the odds that Davis, with his 48 homers, would hit .247 again, as he did for the Brewers in 2015 and the A’s in 2016 and 2017?
“I’m kind of speechless,” he told the Chronicle on Sunday. “I don’t know, it’s just weird.”
As of this week, it is all just wild. No franchise ever fit the description better.