Because it’s far too early to be doing this, we’re doing it: The 2021 Oakland Athletics are on their way to be one of baseball’s worst teams ever, because small sample size says so.
So what we’ll do is take their first five massive losses, which conveniently are their first five games, and do that stupidest of math problems, OAPT, or On A Pace To. It’s a cheap literary (read: sportswriter) trick to pretend we’re in an imaginary universe in which what you just saw is all you’re going to see for infinity, but if you’ve watched the A’s give up at least nine runs a game in every game they’ve played so far, you’d OAPT the live long day, just for amusement’s sake.
After losing to the Dodgers on Monday, 10-3—their third seven-run loss in those five games, and we are being generous in phrasing it that way because it doesn’t count their eight-run loss—the A’s are looking all 1899 Cleveland Spider-y, or to be more contemporary for you kids, all 1930 Philadelphia Phillie-ee. Their OAPTs so far are 162 losses and no wins (easy, that), 389 runs scored (the lowest full season total in the non-dead ball era) and 1458 runs allowed (206 more than Our Beloved Cleveland Spiders in 1899). The rest is just more tiresome math, but you get the point. The A’s as of this moment are That Team, and while the mean will always win in the end, this is all we have to go with now.
Worse, after an opening night COVID sellout, they are half-filling even just their available seats. The A’s are a hothouse team in that people will come when there’s uninterrupted winning, so uninterrupted losing stimulates the populace like, well, like a virus. They live off the good vibes they create, and losing by a touchdown every day is just plain poor marketing.
They have also invigorated the Houston Astros, who swept the A’s over the weekend, to once again become the target of actual trash-talking. If Houston had been the ones to go 0-4, maybe folks wouldn’t bother quite so much with three-year-old cheatitude, but the Los Angeles Angels, who have been COVID-packing their stadium, saw their fans become performance artists during a 7-6 win that almost humanized the Astros despite the continued ownership of responsibility-averse Jim Crane. You may rest assured the Angels’ security force will be equally slow on the uptake tonight, now that the fans have found that Houston’s kryptonite is actually ice cream helmets, mustard-swathed hot dog wrappers, and three-buck-per-ounce beer vats that read “Drink Responsibly.”
But back to the A’s. They have of late been an excellent team caught in a weird stasis, having to find reasons why winning baseball does not attract more people. They have seized on their pre-Nixonian stadium as the handiest alibi though have done no shoveling toward an alternative, and the most likely intermediate step, going deep in the playoffs, has worked better for the Tampa Bay Rays, whose stadium is worse, payroll is lower, and general fan interest is less.
Thus, in a year in which cajoling fans to come to the ballpark has now been downgraded to abject begging, the Athletics have provided the most compelling reason not to bother. Now if they do challenge the 162-loss mark, lack-of-thrill–seekers across the nation may flock to the park to see if they can be there either for a historical loss or for that elusive first win, but this is an as-yet-untried strategy. But losing the way they have makes it much easier for fans to leave early and not have to wrestle with that Manfredian conundrum, “How much less baseball do baseball fans want?” The A’s have offered the first suggestion of the game’s new Era Of Self-Pity, specifically:
“A’s Baseball—Four Innings Oughta Do Ya.”