Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Amazing A's on verge of making history
By Jayson Stark
If the calendar says it's September, you know what that means.
Right you are. It means you probably forgot to set your fantasy-football lineup on Sunday. Oops!
Ah, but that's not all it means. It also means it's time to kick off our annual September History Watch. And let's get this year's history lesson started with a look at those amazing Oakland A's.
They're a beautiful story, these 2012 A's. We love the way they pitch. We love the way they make those home run trots. We love the way they sport those fashionable green caps.
But there's nothing historic about any of that. What makes these guys a subject for our September History Watch is this:
They're almost certainly going to have the lowest team batting average of any club ever to make it to the postseason in the division-play era -- and possibly ever.
Here are the numbers you should file away if, like us, you have pretty much no life:
• Oakland's team average currently sits at .236. That ranks 29th in baseball, ahead of only the perpetually offensively challenged Mariners (.232). Fortunately, the A's walk a lot, homer a lot and find ways to score when they need to. Nevertheless, it's safe to say you don't see a lot of contenders rumbling through September with .236 team batting averages.
What's the lowest team average by any club to make it to the postseason since baseball lowered the mound and went to division play in 1969? That would be .242, by Bud Harrelson's 1969 Mets. And that number is more unreachable than you might think.
By our calculations, the A's would have to hit close to .290 as a team the rest of the way to get to .243. So good chance that's not happening, even if they did have an 11-game stretch from Aug. 28 through Sept. 8 where they did in fact hit .290.
• Of course, unlike those '69 Mets, these A's get to use a DH every day. So what's the lowest team average by an American League playoff participant in the DH era? That would be .244, by last year's Rays. And we're ashamed to say we just realized that. How'd we miss that fabulous piece of history last September, anyway? What's wrong with us?
• But it's also possible that the A's could make even more history. What's the lowest team batting average by any team that played a postseason game in the live ball era? Oh, it's doable. That magic number is .235, by Mickey Stanley's 1968 Tigers, a team that actually won the World Series, thanks to Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich and a pitcher's mound that then stood 18 inches high.
So it isn't exactly out of the question that the A's could break that record, considering they never got their average above .235 at any point all season until a week and a half ago, when the Red Sox were helpful enough to allow them to get 19 hits and score 20 runs in one game.
• What now looks almost certainly out of reach, though, is the lowest team batting average by any team ever to play a postseason game -- a record held by Jiggs Donahue's fabled "Hitless Wonders," the 1906 White Sox. That team hit .230 that year, but still found a way to beat the Cubs in a World Series in which both teams batted under .200. We'd say they both submerged under the Mendoza Line, except for the slight technicality that the inspiration for that line, Mario Mendoza, was still 44 years away from debuting on planet Earth at the time.
Could these A's still catch those White Sox? Doubtful. The A's were actually hitting below .230 as recently as Aug. 18. But they've been trending northward ever since. So we're not worried about them plummeting that far south in the last three weeks. Jonny Gomes wouldn't allow it.
• Finally, we could be in for a double dose of history this October, because the A's aren't even the only contender with a team average in the .230s. Checked out the Rays lately? They're gurgling along at .239 themselves. So if these two teams pitch their way into the Octoberfest, we'll be looking at an all-time first:
Two playoff teams with batting averages under .240 in the same season? Never happened. Ever.
But it could happen this year, friends. And that's the reason this September History Watch has a reason to exist. So stay tuned. There's more to come like this. Way more. Jonny Gomes would allow that.