The three best baseball players in the world right now are Mike Trout, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Mookie Betts. All three of these players play in western divisions.
So in a year when western teams only play other western teams, that means a western team like the A’s which does not have one of these three players has to face these three players a lot. 16 out of the 60 games the A’s play this season will be against these three players. That’s 26.7% of the schedule. Ordinarily, it would be between 12 and 16%.
When you play 26.7% of your games against the best three players in the world, those three players are going to beat you sometimes. By themselves, even if the rest of their teams aren’t as good as they are.
The A’s played 10 games against the Angels this year. They went 6-4. Two of those four losses you could directly attribute to Mike Trout beating them. They just lost two of three to the Padres, including Sunday’s 5-3 loss, and both of those losses you could say were a direct result of Fernando Tatis, Jr. beating them.
So four of the A’s 14 losses this year, or 28.6%, are directly caused by two of the three best players on the planet. The A’s have 23 games left to play. Only three, against the Dodgers and Mookie Betts, are against those three great players. That’s 13.0%. They are now done with Trout and Tatis.
So ordinarily, you might say it gets easier from here. But the A’s are getting banged up, with Matt Chapman coming out of Sunday’s game with hip tendonitis, after Marcus Semien has already missed several games with a side injury. Even if those two players aren’t among the three best players in the world, they were in the top 20 last year, if not this year, and so if those two are out, it gets easier for the other team, too.
There’s a five-game series against the Astros starting Monday. These five games will probably determine who wins the AL West in 2020. It’s not a good time for the A’s to be hurt, but the Astros are a bit banged up, too.
It’s been a year of attrition. It could all fall apart at any moment, off the field or on. When the A’s had a positive COVID test last week, it was difficult to know if they would even make it through the season. Two of the A’s best relievers this year, Liam Hendriks and Jake Diekman, are both at high risk for COVID complications. If the disease had spread beyond just Daniel Mengden, those two players, the most consistently good members of the most consistent part of the team, might have dropped out. The A’s are suffering a rash of injuries right at the most critical juncture of the regular season. If those injuries cost them some games against the Astros in the next few days, they could end up losing a division that they’ve led all season.
But it’s a blessing to be able to be worried about that, when the alternative is to be worried about a deadly disease, and record heat, and unbreathable air. It’s a blessing to still even be here.