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The A’s are the team you don’t want to face in the playoffs

Oakland entered Saturday trailing Houston by 1½ games in the AL West.Stephen Lam/Getty Images

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The Oakland Athletics have lost effective starters Brett Anderson and Sean Manaea to injuries recently, which has slowed their tremendous surge to secure a playoff spot and possibly win the AL West. But whatever happens, the A’s are at least this — the team you don’t want to face in the playoffs. They are dangerous.

“The team is doing well,” said general manager Billy Beane, asked about the Athletics’ current success as he drove to the ballpark late last week. “We’re crawling into September to expand our roster. We’ve used 13 starting pitchers and we’ve lost two starters in a span of three days. But other than that things are good. It’s been a fun season to this point.”


While there’s hope in Beane’s voice, he also has concern about losing Anderson and Manaea and the fact that A’s starters have allowed 25 earned runs in their last 41⅓ innings over nine games heading into Friday’s game against Seattle. The Mariners were 4½ games behind the A’s for the second wild card, and seven behind the Astros for the AL West lead. Right now the Athletics are 2½ games behind the Astros, and would face the Yankees in the one-game wild-card playoff.

Yet most observers of the A’s feel the team is about a year ahead of schedule.

“I don’t know internally that we had a schedule,” Beane said. “Listen, every year is an opportunity. I don’t think we’ve ever punted in any year. That being said, did I think we’d be this close to Houston this late in the season? Probably not. These guys have learned quickly, but we shouldn’t be totally surprised because last year we brought some of these kids up. Namely [third baseman] Matt Chapman and [first baseman] Matt Olson, we’ve basically played .500 from the point in the season when they came up at about the halfway point of last season. We were a significantly better team the second half of last year, which blurred the overall record.”


Besides the Olson and Chapman additions, the A’s have the slugger nobody knows in Khris Davis.

Khris Davis has 39 homers and 104 RBIs through 126 games.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

“He’s led all of baseball in homers the last three years, which is really saying something,” said Beane. “I think he’s starting to get a little bit of attention mainly because we’re playing so well. He’s on the cusp of three straight 40-homer seasons. There aren’t too many people in baseball history who have done that.”

Beane figured Chapman was going to be a star but perhaps with a little more seasoning. His quick ascension into one of the best young players in the game has come along more rapidly than even Beane anticipated.

“He was already a very good defensive player when he came up. I think the real pleasant surprise is how he’s adapted offensively. He had good power when he came up but he’s hitting over .280 now,” Beane said.

Beane said he gets irritated when the A’s are seen as an organization that trades away its players. He thinks that’s an unfair characterization.

“The narrative on us that we’re always trading players is, quite frankly, [expletive],” Beane said. “We either trade for players when we think we have a shot or we trade our players. It’s one or the other. We never sit there and do nothing. You look at our history and when we’re in it we make acquisitions to solidify our club going forward, going back to 1999 when we made a flurry of trades at the deadline.


“What we don’t do is stand pat. And this year the team started playing well. We were hovering around .500 and I think June 16th was the date we played the Angels and we took off. Given the momentum we had we felt if we added something we’d be right in it and that’s when we added [reliever Jeurys] Familia. From there we got [starter Mike] Fiers and then [relievers] Shawn Kelly and Fernando Rodney, and all of those acquisitions have had an impact on us.”

Why the Mariners didn’t block the A’s from getting the waiver claim on Fiers, who would have been of use to them, is a mystery. Beane acknowledged he actually sweated that one out.

Fernando Rodney has appeared in 11 games for the A’s and has an 0.00 ERA over 11 innings.Andy Clayton-King/AP

“It was really bad timing,” Beane recalled, “because literally the day the claim came up was the day we leapt ahead of them in the standings. They still could have blocked him but we held our breath because the one day when they were behind us we needed to get this claim. You can’t block everybody. The fact of the matter is there are a lot of players we have claimed that have not reached us. I’m guessing Seattle is the reason for a lot of those.”

Beane calls Jed Lowrie the anchor of the team.


“He’s arguably been one of the best second basemen in baseball the last two years,” said Beane. “It was interesting at the beginning of his career with Boston, he wasn’t consistently on the field. The last couple of years are quite the opposite where he’s consistently healthy and consistently productive. We wouldn’t be where we are without him.”

There was also the threat that manager Bob Melvin could have taken the Yankees’ managerial job last offseason, but A’s ownership wouldn’t let him go.

“Listen, I’ll speak for myself and baseball ops. I’ve said for many years, I think he’s the perfect manager for us,” Beane said. “I didn’t want to see him go. I’m glad he’s here. Bob would be a great choice for any team. He’s a really solid guy with the players and the media. I hope he’s here for the rest of my career.”

The elephant in the room is building a new stadium. The A’s tried San Jose and were rebuffed because of the Giants’ territorial rights to that area. There are other proposals out there, such as building on the current site or another site on the Oakland waterfront to which Beane says, “We’re cautiously optimistic.”

Beane, who turned down John Henry’s offer to be Boston’s general manager in 2002 after Beane gained national notoriety for his Moneyball approach to baseball, still operates with a limited budget.

“We started the year with the lowest payroll in baseball. We’ve creeped ahead of the White Sox so we’re 29th after all the trades we made. That hasn’t changed. We’ve figured out a way to be competitive,” Beane said.


Billy Beane has led the A’s front office for 20 years.Jeff Chiu/AP

There’s still a semblance of Moneyball, but the modern version is with the use of analytics.

“We’re ruthlessly committed to a certain process,” Beane said. “We haven’t wavered about the way we’ve done things. It’s hard to see us changing as long as I’m here.”

Being the innovative guy he is, Beane was asked about Tampa Bay’s pitching philosophy and its team in general.

“I have so much respect for Tampa,” Beane said. “They are one of the first scores I check. I do not trust that they’re out of this thing. Not one bit. Even when they were making trades, I figured they’d stay in it. As far as the pitching thing, it’s one of those things on paper that makes sense and then when you see them putting it into action and having success it’s not a surprise. It’s part of their DNA. They’re a small-market team and they’ve been creative ever since Andrew [Friedman, now Dodgers president] was there.”

Beane thinks the Oakland fan base has come to enjoy this team. He said TV ratings have doubled.

“One thing about our fan base — it’s hard core,” he said. “There’s probably as loyal a following as any in the game. When this team wins the community gets behind us. It’s a likable team and it’s endeared itself to the followers. It’s a team the country doesn’t know. When we won in 2012 nobody knew who we were. But maybe we can change that narrative.”

One thing is for sure, nobody wants to play the A’s in the playoffs. Nobody.

Apropos of nothing

1. The Yankees needed a hitter to replace the injured Aaron Judge. While not the impact bat of Judge, Andrew McCutchen could add an energy that has been missing with the Yankees of late. Giants vice president Brian Sabean thinks McCutchen has a lot to give. “He was a breath of fresh air for us,” Sabean said. “We just couldn’t do anything for him because we had a weak lineup, but we would have kept him if the Yankees hadn’t come after him so hard.” Sabean said there were other teams who inquired but “the Yankees came after him the hardest.” The Indians were also one of the teams in the mix.

2. We keep forgetting to include White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams on the list of those who could be in line to run the Mets or Orioles. But the Mark Shapiro-to-the-Mets scenario we outlined last week seems to have some legs.

3. The Reds have lost 17 of Homer Bailey’s 18 starts this season.

4. The third annual Sunrise to Sunset Jimmy Fund Golf Tournament will take place on Monday, Oct. 15, at The International in Bolton. Golfers can sign up for this 36-hole fund-raiser as individuals or with a group, and have the choice to play a scramble or their own ball on The International’s two courses. Jim Lonborg will serve as the celebrity host. Sign up or get more information here.

5. One of the greats in the baseball journalism business, Bill Ballou, has hung up his great wit, insights, and baseball acumen in the sports pages of the Worcester Telegram. Ballou is a walking and talking history of the Red Sox and one of the best tell-it-like-it-is beat reporters in our business. Retirement is well deserved, but he will be missed.

6. Why is it that Yankees fans boo underperforming players and Red Sox fans (for the most part) don’t?

Andrew Benintendi has hit 16 home runs, batted in 77 runs, and has a .859 OPS through 127 games.Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

7. The White Sox still shudder that they lost out on Andrew Benintendi in the 2015 draft. They were going to draft Benintendi at No. 8, but the Red Sox grabbed him at No. 7. The White Sox took Vanderbilt righthander Carson Fulmer, who has struggled in the minors and in his brief time in the majors (8.07 ERA).

Updates on nine

1. Mike King, RHP, Yankees — The Yankees have so many prospects that the former Boston College righthander goes unnoticed and isn’t even on the 40-man roster. Yet he’s drawn the attention of scouts who have watched him recently and come away impressed. The 23-year-old is 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after going 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA at Double A Trenton. He has command of three pitches (fastball, changeup, slider) and four-seams at about 95 miles per hour. King, in the opinion of some scouts, would be in the big leagues with a smaller-market team

2. David Howard, former field coordinator of minor league instruction, Red Sox — He held the job for nine years and put in 15 years in the organization, but he was suddenly replaced this past week. Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett said, “He had been in that role for a while and we were looking for a change. We’ll take some time this fall to determine a replacement.” This is the second field coordinator that we know of who has left his post. Dave Trembley left the Braves last month. The Red Sox had some of the best instruction in baseball under Howard over the years but were apparently thinking something different. Howard was surprised by the news, but “it was an unreal 15 years. I worked with amazing colleagues on the field, with the scouts and the front office. Was a part of three world championships and made unreal friends for life.”

3. J.P. Ricciardi, vice president, Mets — He still has two years remaining on his contract, but he hasn’t lobbied to stay on with the team as GM. Ricciardi ran the Blue Jays for eight years and acquired players such as Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. He also brought in future executives such as Tony LaCava and Alex Anthopoulos. Ricciardi could be in line for a GM job elsewhere.

4. Jose Bautista, OF, Phillies — The Phillies were the only team that bid on Bautista, which is surprising considering his power and the fact the Mets thought he had done a good job in terms of getting on base and providing pop. Some scouts felt he would have fit both the Yankees and Indians.

Bryce Harper is slashing.245/.377/.497 with 30 homers through 132 games.Alex Brandon/AP

5. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals — There’s been a lot of speculation about the Dodgers, Yankees, Braves, Phillies, and Nationals being in pursuit of Harper as a free agent, but one team you shouldn’t rule out is the Giants, who desperately need to revamp their offense. Harper would be a good way to start. The Giants are ranked 21st in runs and 27th in OPS (.684).

6. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, free agent — He can’t seem to get playing out of his blood. Ichiro reluctantly took off his Mariners uniform earlier this season and took on a consultant’s role, but he wants to play. Yes, even now as he nears 45 years old. His agent, John Boggs, said he’s prepared to head into free agency and hopes to get picked up. Boggs said he didn’t know if Ichiro would consider a return to Japan, but it appears Ichiro would rather hook on in Major League Baseball, even if it’s as a backup. One thing that’s interesting is he still has his speed, and he might be able to help a team even now as a pinch runner.

7. Hanley Ramirez, 1B/DH, free agent — News on Ramirez has been hard to come by, but from those who know him comes this — Ramirez is ready to go out into free agency in November and try to hook on with a team. There was interest by teams not long after the Red Sox released him, but Ramirez, who was due another $15 million, decided to stay away. Then came the erroneous report about his involvement in a drug deal, but that didn’t seem to hurt him. Ramirez just wanted to take a break. It’ll be interesting to see how much of a postseason/World Series share his former teammates award him.

8. Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox — What does manager Alex Cora do with Devers when he returns? Does he get his job back given how well Eduardo Nunez has stabilized the position? Devers would give the Red Sox lefthanded power, but also would bring the threat of throwing the ball away at a key time in a game. Can you trust him in the postseason? This appears to be a major dilemma for Cora.

9. Ryan Madson, RHP, Dodgers — The Dodgers had to do something to help save their sinking bullpen so they took a flier on Madson, claiming him on waivers and then working out a deal with the Nationals. Madson recently came off the DL with a nerve injury in his back so it’s unclear how effective he will be. Given the shortage of relievers out there, especially ones who have cleared waivers, the $1.24 million in salary the Dodgers will take on seems reasonable.

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck files — “Chris Davis has had 56 hitless games this season, the most in the majors. In those games, he’s gone 0 for 200 with 99 whiffs.” . . . Also, “The Rays’ Mallex Smith leads the majors with four games with a steal and a triple. Ty Cobb did it 10 times in 1911 and Willie Wilson did it nine times in 1979.” . . . Happy birthday, Jeff Russell (57) and Jose Melendez (53).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.