By Alex Hall
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics have enjoyed an incredible 2018 season, with 92 wins already in the bank and a Wild Card berth within reach. They’ll open their final home series of the year on Friday, hosting the Minnesota Twins for three games.
The A’s magic number is four entering the series opener, with nine games left to play. That means they need a combination of four of the following: wins of their own, and/or losses by the team chasing them in the standings. In this case, that pursuer is the Tampa Bay Rays, who are 6 1/2 games behind Oakland for the second Wild Card. It’s possible that the A’s could clinch that Wild Card this weekend at the Coliseum.
Meanwhile, Oakland is only 1 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees for the first Wild Card, which brings with it home-field advantage in the postseason play-in game on October 3. The Yankees play the Orioles on Friday, and the Rays play the Blue Jays.
As for the A’s game on Friday, they will turn to Liam Hendriks as an opener for the seventh time this month. Hendriks usually pitches just the first inning and then gives way to the rest of the bullpen. At some point, traditional starter Chris Bassitt will come in for multiple innings of long relief.
Oakland is only 2-4 when using the bullpen opener strategy, but there are other factors involved in that record, such as the offensive output of the lineup and a couple rough nights by the setup crew in the late innings. For his part, Hendriks has tossed a scoreless first inning each of the six times he’s opened, and Bassitt has put together three solid frames both times he’s come out of the pen.
On the other side of the ball, the A’s are coming off an impressive showing against the Angels this week. They scored 38 runs in three games, including 21 in the finale on Thursday. That matched the second-biggest output in Oakland history, and the 21-3 final was the second-largest margin of victory as well.
Oakland’s lineup, which is fourth in the majors in runs per game (4.99) and tied for fourth in OPS (.763), will get a chance to feast on a Twins pitching staff that has allowed the eighth most runs per game (4.88) in the big leagues. Minnesota is 71-81 this season, and lost three of four to the A’s in an August series at Target Field.
The Twins will send Jose Berrios to the mound to oppose Hendriks and the A’s bullpen. The right-handed Berrios made the All-Star team this summer at age 24, and he’s put together a strong 3.81 ERA on the season. He faced the A’s in the previous series in Minnesota, throwing five innings and allowing three runs on eight hits including a homer by Matt Chapman. Oakland won that game 6-2.