Watch enough early-season baseball and you’ll likely hear an announcer say, “You can’t win the season in April, but you can lose it.” The idea is that it’s hard for a team to get out to such an enormous lead that they can coast through the final five months of the campaign. Sustaining success is hard, and sooner or later, Michael’s Secret Stuff is revealed to be only water and the power they had all along was some good BABIP-luck and a decent record in one-run games.
On the other hand, it’s entirely possible for a team to dig themselves into a hole from which there is no escape. All the same logic about sustaining success over long periods still applies, but in this case, there’s far less room for error.
Let’s say a team needs at least 90 wins to make it to the postseason. 90 wins is by no means a guarantee, but someone usually squeaks in with that modest win total. If a team goes 20-10 over their first 30 games, they still need to maintain a .530 winning percentage over 132 games to make it to 90 wins and have a decent chance of making the playoffs. That’s pretty hard to do. Now, if a team goes 10-20, however, they need to finish with a .606 winning percentage to make it to 90 wins. That’s exceedingly more difficult.
In 2021, we’ve only finished the first week of games let alone the first month, so it’s far too soon to begin raising banners (sorry Orioles fans) or digging graves. It might be time to start thinking about taking out a life insurance policy on the Oakland A’s, though. You know: just in case.
The A’s have begun their season as poorly as possible. They’re now 1-6 after scraping out Wednesday’s contest against the Dodgers. To get their lone win, they continuously skirted disaster, stranding 14 Dodger runners and keeping LA to 2-for-21 with runners in scoring position. The 0-6 start matched a franchise record for most losses to start the season. The last time the A’s started the season 0-6 was back in 1916. It’d be one thing if A’s were dropping a few close contests, but Oakland has gotten absolutely whomped. They’ve been outscored 17 to 53, and before Wednesday, they hadn’t finished within four runs of their opposition. They were the first team since 1995 to allow 8 or more runs in their first five games and just the third to do it since 1901.
The A's are the 3rd team since at least 1901 to allow 8+ runs in each of their 1st 5 games of a season, joining:— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) April 6, 2021
1995 White Sox
It feels silly to even bring up playoff odds on April 8, but FanGraphs gave the A’s a 33.4 percent chance of making the postseason on Opening Day, and after Wednesday’s win, their odds had dropped all the way to 11 percent. There’s still plenty of time to correct the course, but the early returns have illuminated why projection systems haven’t bought into the defending AL West champs.
Injuries have impacted the roster certainly. Chad Pinder, Mike Fiers, and Burch Smith are on the IL, Matt Olson is day-to-day, and worst of all, Trevor Rosenthal is in danger of missing half the season with thoracic outlet syndrome. The A’s aren’t at full strength, but good teams can weather being down a few players.
To replace Pinder, the A’s have turned to Seth Brown, who had a nice showing in his 2021 debut, but isn’t expected to be any better than replacement level. Mitch Moreland is filling in for Matt Olson, and Moreland is fine against righties but he’s completely exposed against lefties. A shallow bench is only exacerbated by holes in the middle infield. Elvis Andrus is a clear downgrade from Marcus Semien, and counting on a resurrection from Jed Lowrie is a dicey plan especially when the backup plan is Tony Kemp.
Teams with weak benches need everything to go right, and so far nothing has. Even the dependable talent has been slow out of the box. The outlook for the A’s is much bleaker if Matt Chapman is merely very good instead of a superstar. Likewise, if Jesús Luzardo takes a step back rather than the predicted step forward, the rotation is much more questionable.
Of course, the A’s aren’t dead yet. Even if the first week was as brutal as one could imagine, it was only a week. Oakland could very well go on to win the wild card or even the division. Things are bound to improve from here if only because they can’t conceivably get much worse.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.