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A closer look at the Oakland Athletics’ struggles in the AL West

The 2018 Oakland Athletics are not a bad team and devoted fans have been treated to some exciting baseball in the first third of the season. Unfortunately for the A's, they play in the AL West which has proven to be kryptonite for pitchers, hitters, and fielders.

After 62 games, the A's are sitting at a respectable .500 and, in many ways, are exceeding expectations. The team has performed exceptionally well against weaker teams with sweeps against the Orioles, White Sox, and Blue Jays and have held their own against hot teams with winning records against the Red Sox and Diamondbacks.

All in all, in their 31 non-AL West matchups, the team is 21-10 (.677) but they have struggled a great deal among division rivals and are sitting on a 10-21 (.322) record within the AL West.

The A's are the only team to have a losing record against every team in their division. Even the last place Rangers have a winning record against one division foe - the A's.

If the A's had won at least half of the games against their own division teams, the ranking of the AL West would be dramatically different. For the purposes of this article, the A's were given a one game advantage in match ups with an odd number of games.

  1. OAK 38-24 (.612)
  2. HOU 36-23 (.610)
  3. SEA 36-25 (.590)
  4. LAA 33-30 (.523)
  5. TEX 26-38 (.406)

Against AL West teams, the A's have scored 108 runs and allowed 163 for a -55 run differential. Against all other teams, the A's have scored 167 runs and allowed 109 for a +58 run differential. Almost completely opposite. But what is causing this huge flip? They face good pitching and tight defenses nearly everywhere they play and they make mistakes fairly evenly so what is causing such a swap in their run production and their ability to control the runs scored against them?

18 of the team's 38 errors (fifth most in the majors) came during divisional losses. Seven of their errors have come in losses to non-division rivals. Despite 65% of their errors occurring during losses, there isn't much a stasticial difference between division and non-division losses on this metric. Poor fielding may have an impact on the games but it is pretty evenly split.

Starting pitchers are averaging 5 innings per start during divisional losses while giving up 3.6 earned runs per game which indicates that not all of the losses can be attributed to a starting rotation which has had clear struggles. Among non-division losses they are also averaging 5 innings per start and 3.8 runs per game so performance during losses is virtually identical when averaged out.

The A's are 10-7 in one run games but only three of those seven losses are during divisional matches. On the opposite side of the spectrum, they are 9-7 in blowouts with three of those seven losses occurring within the AL West.

In their AL West losses, the team is averaging 2.42 runs per game and have been shut out twice. In their other losses they have averaged 2.3 runs per game and have been shut out three times.

So what does all of this mean? It means that, statistically, the team isn't playing any worse among their division rivals in the AL West. Close games, blowouts, bad starts, faltering bullpens, and fielding errors in and out of the division are pretty evenly split. Ultimately, it may just come down to luck.

With more blowouts and one-run losses coming in non-division games but more losses overall in the AL West, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to their current record.

The team's Pythagorean W-L is 31-31, the same as their actual W-L, indicating that the team is chugging along at about where they should be at this point in the season but there should still be some discouragement that the team who has a winning record against the Red Sox has a losing record against the Rangers.

The A's are beating teams that they should beat. Weak squads like Baltimore, Toronto, and Chicago should be dominated by teams who want to contend this year and the A's have dominated all three. The only weak spot in their W-L column is within the division and there doesn't seem to be any explanation for the trend.

Obviously, there are plenty of explanations on a game by game analysis but overall, looking at the big picture, the team's losses are all pretty much the same.

It seems ridiculous to be discussing possible contention for Oakland in June. The team has had three consecutive last place finishes and is built for contention down the line. That said, they are in a better place than they were in 2012 at this time and the end of that season is the stuff of legend in Oakland so there is still a lot of room for hope among fans of the green and gold.

In June there are six games remaining against division teams with better records, three against Houston and three against Los Angeles. These will be critical games heading into July where teams begin taking a very serious look at their contention hopes.

In July there are four games against Houston before the All Star Break. If the A's can sweep the Angels in June and go 4-3 against the Astros, they will have a .500 record against LA and be 3 under .500 against Houston. It would take a sweep of both teams to bring the A's to .500 against both at the break.

Following the break are four games against the Rangers. A series win will be enough to even the season against Texas.

Then there is August, the AL West month. Three games against Los Angeles and Texas and , five games against Seattle and Houston. August will be a make or break month for this team if things keep going like they are.

Assuming the team keeps performing at their current level, especially among non-division rivals, August could be the month that the A's blow it all or are seriously in the discussion for the first time since 2014. It will all come down to whether Bob Melvin and his staff can figure out what's going wrong in the AL West.

Featured Image: 2018 Topps Now MLB #197

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