You could probably say that things are pretty swell in the land of the Oakland Athletics these days.
At a fourth-ranked 4.1 team fWAR in September to go along with a second-ranked .873 OPS and 78 runs scored, the team is one of the very best offensive squads in the bigs going down the stretch. Even when the bats have a hiccup, their pitching staff has been right there to back them up with a second-ranked 2.79 team ERA and a league-leading 2.20 starters ERA bolstered by folks like the ageless (though perhaps PED-assisted) Bartolo Colon.
Just ask the Texas Rangers, who were absolutely dominated by the veteran through eight innings, giving the A’s yet another victory despite getting only four hits off Yu Darvish.
The 1-0 win has the A’s sitting pretty in the AL West picture, with the team going 8-2 in their last 10 currently 5.5 games up on the second-place Rangers. A second-straight playoff appearance is all but guaranteed at 99.9 percent, and they will likely go in as one of the hottest teams in the league.
However, all of that only serves to belie the problem that exists at the heart of the Athletics — figuratively anyway: Jed Lowrie.
As the team’s regular no. 3 hitter in September (he’s hit there in all but one of the 13 games he’s played in September going into Sunday), the importance of his production should be self evident. As for whether he’s performing up to those expectations, however … well, let’s just say that his teammates are doing a pretty good job at picking up the slack.
Lowrie went 0-for-3 in Sunday’s contest, leaving two men on base; he obviously wasn’t the only one who had issues in the game, but it’s far from being an irregular occurrence in September either.
He’s failed to hit in six of 13 games in the month, posting a .235/.273/.412 triple slash that’s far from his otherwise good .286/.344/.436 line. He does have nine RBIs in the month thanks mostly to success of Josh Donaldson hitting ahead of him, but his 87 wRC+ is well below average, and is tied for 12th among the A’s bats.
Put that together with his sub-par defense (0.4 fielding runs below average), and the shortstop has a 0.1 fWAR on the month, putting him at Eric Sogard levels.
Needless to say, that’s not what the team with one of the hottest offenses in the league should be getting from their no. 3 hitter, and the fact that he’s going to be there again in Sunday’s game is a little bit of a head-scratcher, though perhaps understandable as the team might not want to mess with a good thing happening with Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss all being on late-season tears.
However, if the team wants to make it deep into the playoffs and engage in long, drawn out battles where the onus is on pitching and each run comes at a premium, they’re going to need Lowrie to provide that missing link at the heart of the order.
After all, a team still needs to score a run to win a 1-0 game, and they’d only be making it harder on themselves if they can’t get consistent production out of their no. 3 hitter, yes?