Expectations are a funny thing. There were absolutely none on the 2012 A’s, who came from five games back in the division with ten games left to play to overtake the Rangers on the final day of the season. There were a little, but still not much, on the 2013 A’s, who proved that 2012 was no fluke. But the 2014 A’s went into the season as back-to-back division champions, and when they started playing excellent ball, blowing everyone away in run differential and dominating the league, expectations rose.
And those expectations boiled over on July 31 when Billy Beane traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes. Now this wasn’t just a good team, it was a good team who was expected to go to the World Series. Expectations lead to pressure, and not only did it put pressure on the A’s, it put a big bullseye on the team, and extra motivation for their opponents to knock them down.
This is where I’m at in trying to understand what happened to the A’s in August. Sure, they missed Cespedes, but it was a lot more than that. Brandon Moss stopped hitting, almost completely. So did Derek Norris. Jed Lowrie was playing hurt and then went on the DL. Even the vaunted starting pitching staff had some rough patches. It just all fell apart at once.
We can look at stats all day long to try to figure out who can replace who in a lineup, but one thing we couldn’t have ever prepare for is the psychological impact a move like the Cespedes trade has on a team. Maybe it doesn’t have any. Only the A’s players themselves know if they were pressing and trying to do too much because Cespedes is no longer on the team. But we do know the team had its first losing month since May of 2012, guys who were All Stars in the first half looked completely lost at the plate in August, and they lost their division lead and now sit 4 1/2 games back in the AL West behind the Angels. One guy not being in a lineup can’t do that but pressure sure can.
The good news for the A’s is that they still have 24 more games to play this season and hold a three game lead for the first Wild Card spot. They also now have Adam Dunn in their lineup, who might help provide some of that lineup protection and presence that they may have been missing without Cespedes. But the pressure is still on. There’s no way it can’t be in a season like this.