There is only one headline from this week in the baseball season. A story that has been developing all season looks like it hit a key point. The Oakland Athletics, a mess both on and off the field, are finally moving to Las Vegas. Or at least the start of it is happening.
The Nevada legislatures passed the vote to allow the development of a new ballpark. That’s all John Fisher, owner of the club, needed. With that, the A’s are starting to relocate to Las Vegas. The move puts a lot of fans in a weird spot. How should they feel? Is this good for baseball? Why are we still talking about a team 36 games below .500?
This week, it’s hard not to think about the A’s and particularly the fans in Oakland. Likewise, it’s also hard not to think about commissioner Rob Manfred who not only let this happen, in a messy way nonetheless but embraced it. So, let’s look at this news in two parts.
A’s Have Their Week, Season & History Crushed
For a few days, things looked bright in Oakland. To be specific, the team was on a seven-game winning streak, their owner looked unlikely to close a deal, and fans reverse-boycotted the team by paying to sell out Tuesday’s home game.
The A’s weren’t just winning, they were beating up some great teams. The Milwaukee Brewers are in first place in the National League Central Division, they swept them. The Tampa Bay Rays have the best record in the American League, they beat them in consecutive games. The A’s for the first time all season, looked like a team that could win a handful of games and maybe in a few years be competitive.
The Tuesday night game was also one to remember not just for the people in Oakland, but for baseball fans as a whole. The fans packed a ballpark that is designed to keep fans out. They chanted for Fisher to sell the team and other chants that would be wise to not repeat. The people of Oakland showed in one game that they are not the reason that the team is leaving but instead, they proved that it’s the owner who wants the deal that best suits him, and he’ll try everything in his power to make sure that happens.
Then came the vote, one that gave Manfred, Fisher, and MLB the green light to build a ballpark in Las Vegas. Shortly after the A’s fans showed that they care about the team, the team showed they couldn’t care less about the fans. At times, it seemed like the A’s wouldn’t be able to move to Las Vegas, a city that is willing to put in the money but doesn’t need the flailing team as much as the flailing team needs them. Yet, the legislation passed, and with that, the end of the A’s as we know them. The vote and turn of events all but put the dagger into this team.
The immediate aftermath was a team that looked lifeless, as they have throughout the season. The A’s lost five games in a row since the ruling and are now 19-55. They look like a team that has nothing to play for and it’s hard to blame them. At this point, any baseball fan feels bad for the fans of the team, the city, the players, and everyone who was thrown into this mess that has become the story of baseball for all the wrong reasons.
The long-term takeaway from this week was the A’s era in Oakland is all but done. They left a unique legacy in the city but one that in a lot of ways, is unfortunate and sad. Yes, the A’s won three World Series titles in a row and four in the Bay Area. Yes, the green and yellow uniforms were introduced as they were heading west, and along with the jerseys, the A’s gave us a lot of iconic players, teams, and moments. But, it’s hard not to think of their tenure in Oakland without thinking about the owners and the bad luck the fans had to endure.
At first, the A’s dealt with Charles Finley, one of the worst owners in sports history. Finley’s teams won three titles in spite of him and not because of him. They won because they drafted well and free agency wasn’t a thing until the late 1970s. Finley meanwhile, drove the team to bankruptcy, feuded with players and fans, and didn’t even spend his time with the team (he was based out of Chicago). Recently, the A’s have dealt with Fisher, who is as incompetent as they come and actively trying to drive the team away from the fans.
The A’s haven’t officially moved to Las Vegas but this week was a dagger for what seems like an inevitability. The rest of the season will be weird, eerily, and at times, nostalgic. We will look back at Oakland’s time with the team and the highs and lows that came with the A’s, a team that is the definition of boom and bust.
Rob Manfred, Reminds Us That He’s Rob Manfred
When the season started, it looked like Manfred finally got something right. His tenure has been mired with rough moments and the rule changes looked like something that would define his legacy for the better.
The pitch clock, shift ban, bigger bases, and all the rules meant to speed up the game not only worked but made the game more exciting. Baseball looked like it was heading for a comeback in the national landscape. Manfred was ridiculed for the changes but a few weeks into the season, they became a hit for fans of all ages. But as the saying goes, “A broken clock is right twice a day.” The saying for those who don’t know is meant for people who always mess up or are always in the wrong but on the rare occasion, they get something right.
The rule changes were Manfred’s broken clock moment. This week was a reminder as he not only helped with the relocation but then stood by the decision to move the team while neglecting a fanbase that tried to keep it. He mentioned during his press conference that there wasn’t an offer from Oakland. The Mayor of the city stated that there was a proposal that Fisher wasn’t happy with. He belittled the fans for the reverse boycott stating how the attendance was average for most MLB teams, ignoring the premise of it in the first place. Overall, he sounded tone-deaf during his press conference and was covering up for an owner that didn’t want to speak for himself.
In a season that looked promising, this puts a stain on the year. The game hasn’t felt this exciting yet Manfred found a way to mess up a year with a lot of optimism. It’s a reminder that Manfred is still the commissioner that finds a way to put himself on the wrong side of things.
Small Market Teams Are Thriving (Surprisingly Enough)
After the first two notes were about Oakland, it’s time to look at what some small market teams are doing right. After all, this is the year where the smaller market teams are not only playing well but they are the dominant teams in the league.
The Rays are in first place in the American League East Division. The Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks have the two best records in the National League. The Miami Marlins and Baltimore Orioles are in playoff position. The San Francisco Giants were the notable non-spenders of the offseason, failing to sign Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa, the top two free agents. The Giants have the fifth-best record in the National League.
In a league where the small market teams are typically stomped by the teams with higher payrolls, they have had the upper hand this season. Why? Well, there isn’t one answer but a common thread is that these teams have wisely invested in their rosters and are making smart moves, not big ones. These teams aren’t trying to acquire the best players but rather the player that best fits into their lineup or their field. Likewise, they have started to invest in the team, unlike a team that is looking to leave its city (ahem).
The takeaway from this season should be how many smaller clubs are starting to win. Baseball is known for being a sport where the spenders are the ones that usually end up in the World Series. This year, we might see the Rays go up against the Diamondbacks.
Is it Time to Believe in the Angels?
The Los Angeles Angels are 41-33 and in wild card position. After taking the series against the Texas Rangers and winning the weekend series against the Kansas City Royals, they have moved 4.5 games behind first place in their division. Every year, the Angels get off to a hot start and fans hope that this could be the year that they snap the longest playoff drought in baseball. Then, without fail, they fall apart. They haven’t reached the postseason since 2014, it’s tied with the Detroit Tigers for the longest drought.
So, is this their year? It’s early but this season does feel different. The big change is in the lineup with help around Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in the batting order. Four active batters have an OPS+ over 100. Sure Trout and Ohtani do most of the work but this year, there’s more in the lineup that allows them to average 4.93 runs per game.
The pitching staff is where the questions start. Yes, Ohtani is putting together a Cy Young (and MVP) season but there’s a drop-off after that. The Angels don’t have a strong rotation and it’s unclear if they can hold up with that in mind. Otherwise, the Angels will have to outslog their way to the postseason. This week, they did that with a 9-6 win and a 7-3 win but that doesn’t look sustainable and they’ll need the pitching staff to step up.
Giants Batter the Dodgers
This was a slight surprise from the weekend. The Giants not only swept the Los Angeles Dodgers, they outscored them 29-8. This was a beatdown that the Giants gave the Dodgers, highlighted by the 15-0 Saturday win, and it flipped the two teams in the standings.
The Giants have been a rollercoaster team all season with a lot of groundball pitchers and a lot of contact hitters. At times, they look like a legitimate wild card team and are riding a hot streak, winning seven in a row and eight of 10. However, when they do cold, particularly when their fielding struggles, everything unravels and they look like a last-place team.
The real takeaway from this series was the Dodgers. They don’t look like the big bad team that they have been for years. Specifically, they don’t have a rotation which makes it easy to think that they’ll win every series. Sure, Clayton Kershaw looks great as expected but Julio Urias is hurt, Walker Buehler isn’t back from his elbow injury and might not return this season, and Noah Syndergaard has been a disastrous signing. The Dodgers were confident their rotation would hold up just fine as it did last year. It hasn’t and it’s showing.
Other Takeaways From The Week in Baseball
- There’s a power outage in New York. The New York Yankees face the New York Mets this week in the most anti-climactic Subway Series in years. The two teams were lacking star power and both teams split the set. After the two-game series, the Yankees went only to score eight runs on the weekend against their rival Boston Red Sox. The Mets, well they scored only 16 runs in their series but lost two of the three games, dropping to 33-38.
- The Royals are the new worst team in baseball. They’ve won only one of their last 10 games and have 19 total wins on the season. The Rays won more games than them in April (22-6) which speaks volumes to how bad they’ve been. The Royals however aren’t trying to lose. They are just a sorry team which is a shame since they have some players that should make them more competitive.
- The Cincinnati Reds, with their sweep of the Houston Astros, have extended their winning streak to eight games and are now 37-35. They keep rolling and look like the team to beat in the National League Central Division.
- On the flip side, the Astros were swept and are stumbling. They entered the season as the team to beat in the American League but they haven’t looked like a juggernaut in the slightest. The Astros face the Mets this week in a series where both teams will be desperate to turn things around.
Main Image: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports