The best baseball team in modern memory has to be the 1998 New Yankees, a team that won 114 games on its way to a World Series championship. Those Yankees were an incredible 93-1 when taking a lead into the eighth inning of a ball game that season.
The 2014 Oakland Athletics are not the 1998 New York Yankees, and it starts with the poor performance of the A's bullpen over the first quarter of the regular season: after blowing a lead in the eighth inning today against the Chicago White Sox at home, Oakland is just 17-5 when taking a lead into the eighth inning now.
And that's not very good for a team coming off consecutive American League West division titles with aspirations for more this October. Sure, no one is the 1998 Yankees, and that's the point: what those Bronx Bombers did at the back end of games that season defies logic and probability.
These 2014 A's simply defy logic, consider the bullpen was considered a serious strength coming into the regular season. It just hasn't turned out that way at all. The 4-2 loss today to the ChiSox illustrates that point, yet again: Oakland can't close out its leads very efficiently this year (yet?), at all.
Forget that the A's offense, which had scored 38 runs in its previous six games, was held to just two hits for the first seven innings of that game: those two hits produced a 2-1 lead, on the heels of Tommy Milone's second straight effective start (six innings, one run, no walks), and the Oakland bullpen should be able to crack down on the opponents' bats to preserve efforts like that.
But they just haven't been able to in 2014, with any consistency, at all. The bullpen almost coughed up the game on Monday night against the White Sox, too, but they held on for the win. But 17-5 after the eighth inning isn't October caliber -- not even close.
Again, we have to remember the A's losing key games in Detroit the last two postseasons that ended up costing them the divisional series both years: if Oakland's bullpen saves those leads in late innings, then the A's never have to face Verlander in Game Five either time.
Ho hum -- nothing has changed in 2014, even as Oakland brought in both Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson to overcome the loss of Grant Balfour. The A's literally have four guys who have been closers at one point or another in the major leagues, and yet none of these four has been able to consistently close down games for the team this year.
That's a scary thought, especially come October (assuming the A's make it again, which is never a sure thing, of course, in baseball). The Oakland organization needs to find a fix for this leak, soon, that's for sure, because it's starting to get ugly, and it's only May 14.
With eight blown saves and a 25-16 record still, it's scary to think the A's could be 30-11 right now under "normal" blown-save pace -- that's 1984 Detroit Tigers territory. But alas, Oakland has a long way to go still before they can mentioned in the same breath as any World Series champion of the divisional era.