Normally, it might be prudent for the Oakland Athletics not to look too far ahead in a situation like this. After all, they’re not quite there. No, not yet, but it’s oh-so tantalizingly close.
One game. That’s the magic number for the Athletics, heading into their final series of the season against the division winners, the Texas Rangers. The team’s post-season destiny is in their own hands; win at least one, and the team will make its first playoff appearance since 2006. Win all three, and they win the division. Even if the race for the AL West isn’t quite over yet, the one-game elimination number means it’s more than likely (85% chance headed into tonight) the A’s will be playing some playoff baseball as early as this Friday.
At least, that’s how it will play out according to plan. A potential do-or-die one-game playoffs doesn’t leave very much room for pitching decision, and the wheels have surely begun to spin about which pitcher on the A’s staff might be called upon to give the team a chance to advance to the AL division series. In a staff currently consisting of entirely rookie players, it’d seem as though experience isn’t going to be a significant determining factor for the decision – does the team go with Tommy Milone, who is on pace to start? Or maybe Jarrod Parker, who has been fantastic in September, on short rest?
Certainly, either would be a good option; but what if the A’s could get not only their most experienced pitcher, but arguably their best pitcher back in time? A wild card for the wild card game (cue groans for obvious pun), so to speak.
Enter Brett Anderson. When the 24-year old lefty hurt his oblique on the 19th on September (after coming back from Tommy John and pitching brilliantly in his first 4 starts), the best case scenario for the A’s might have seen their young ace get back in the playoff mix sometime in mid-October – if things went more or less perfectly. As it turns out, Anderson’s recovery may have gone even better than the perfect world projections: after throwing a bullpen session earlier today without experiencing the significant discomfort, the lefty has deemed himself ready to go for Friday – and perhaps even as a starter.
Even as a relief option out of the bullpen, Anderson could be a big boost for the A’s in the wild card playoff game. The playoffs may seem like a poor time for manager Bob Melvin to slot in a guy who hasn’t pitched in weeks, but aside from a track record of excellence (when healthy), Anderson also has an intangible that the other A’s starting pitchers don’t have – he’s not a rookie player. Not to say that experience necessarily counts in situations this – it is the first year for the expanded wild card playoffs – but if it counts for anything at all, Anderson, might just end up being the best option for Melvin.
Of course, the A’s could also close their season with a sweep, and give Melvin to run the 3 best pitching options the team has. But, facing a likely one-game situation, the team will have to roll with their best pitcher out there; should Anderson be available, there’s a good argument to be made that he should be the go-to pitcher for the A’s.