Six weeks or so ago, when the A’s pulled off the Jeff Samardzija deal, it was widely assumed that Oakland had just cemented its third consecutive American League West title. They were the best team in the game, and they’d just added to what many already considered the best rotation in the American League.
The Los Angeles Angels had Mike Trout, and that’s about where the conversation ended.
At about the same time, people started writing the Giants off. Their holy-crap (in a good way) start to the season had 180’d into a holy-crap (in a very bad way) middle of the season, and the back end of the season wasn’t looking loaded with promise.
Advantage, by a mile, Los Angeles Dodgers.
As the stretch drive kicks into Dave Chappelle gear, though, the scripts have been flipped. And therein lay the beauty of baseball, the ultimate conversation sport.
It took three of those weeks in that “six weeks ago” span for A’s talk to take a strange, somewhat dark turn. Billy Beane went as big and bold as he’s ever gone, trading the most dynamic and powerful player on his roster, Home Run Derby and YouTube hero Yoenis Cespedes, for yet another stud pitcher, Jon Lester.
Most people outside the Bay Area, and more than a few inside, absolutely loved the deal. Lester in a short series? With Samardzija, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir behind him? Good night.
Surprisingly, though, A’s fans seemed rattled by the trade. I host a little show on the radio home of the A’s, and 90 percent of the callers on the Saturday after the trade expressed serious trepidation regarding an offense without Cespedes as the anchoring presence.
“All season, I’ve felt like we can’t be beat,” one young man said. “Now I feel like we can. It’s weird. We got one of the best pitchers in the game in Lester, but now I’m afraid we got worse!”
Guess what? They did. Wave it off as a small sample size all you want, but ball don’t lie. Nor do the standings.
The Giants’ recent resurgence can be viewed as such only through looking at an even smaller sample size. They played well for, what, a week and a half to climb back into the National League West race? Doesn’t matter. The Dodgers are dinged up, and they’re not exactly a group that strikes you as particularly well-equipped to handle adversity, so game on. We’ve seen the Giants pull some crazy stuff off in the past several years. To squint and see another forehead-slapping surge is no stretch.
A whole mess of crazy stuff has happened already, for both teams, but all that really matters is that right now, on Aug. 24, Bay Area baseball fans have pretty much the same thing they had at the start of the season: two fascinating teams with a shot at playing in October.