In recent years, the Oakland Athletics have emerged as a quietly strong team in the American League West.
Since 2018, they have posted seasons that were well above .500, including back-to-back 97-win years in 2018 and 2019.
However, they have always been pitted against the Houston Astros dynasty that has put a proverbial roadblock in front of the Athletics’ division title hopes.
The Athletics finally broke through in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, winning the division with a 36-24 record.
Now, through 43 games in 2021, they find themselves atop the division once again with a 1.5-game lead over the Astros.
MATT OLSON INTO THE 12TH DECK pic.twitter.com/xmZG8aDfaC
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) April 10, 2021
Is this sustainable?
Here are three reasons why the Athletics will be able to maintain this success on their way to another division title.
3. The Athletics Have Been Good, Not Great
While the Athletics are sitting at 26-17 already, they are far from performing well.
The roster has widely underperformed so far, especially at the plate.
They have no hitters batting above .270, with notable names like Elvis Andrus hitting just .183.
This is both a good and bad sign: even though they are struggling at the plate, the Athletics are still performing well as a team.
— Joe Hughes (@VegasJoeHughes) May 19, 2021
However, the danger here is that it could eventually catch up to them.
If the hitters are not able to turn their seasons around and approach average, other teams may be able to take advantage of the struggles.
This could allow a talented team like the Astros to quickly make ground up in the AL West.
It could also work in the other way, where the Athletics’ offense could hit a hot streak and help carry the team.
This seems more likely, especially given how strong their roster is.
2. The Strong Pitching Core
While the Athletics pitching staff has widely struggled this year, they have some of the most talent in all of Major League Baseball.
What an outing by Cole Irvin 👏 pic.twitter.com/gaSKTUyMTa
— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) May 5, 2021
His return could provide an even greater boost to the rotation, especially later in the season.
Regardless, just like the team’s hitting, their pitching has not performed as well as they can.
This could be setting them up for another push further along in the season.
1. Astros Have Target On Their Backs
If the Astros’ series against the New York Yankees proved anything, it’s that the opposing fans have not forgotten about the 2017 cheating scandal.
— Max Goodman (@MaxTGoodman) May 4, 2021
While that was now four years ago, teams still have a target out on the Astros.
Anytime they enter a city for a series, they are more than likely going to feel the hostility.
This makes their schedule harder, in turn giving another boost to the Athletics.
Over the course of a 162-game season, this could translate to enough a shift in the divisional rankings.
Beyond this, both the Astros hitters and pitchers have been performing at high, likely unsustainable levels this year.
Even with that, they still find themselves in second place.
When you add on the potential for a regression later on in the year, and it seems that the Athletics are sitting in a good spot early in the season.