The Oakland Athletics will only go as far as their bullpen takes them

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 22: Liam Hendriks #16 of the Oakland Athletics reacts to getting the save and beating the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on June 22, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 22: Liam Hendriks #16 of the Oakland Athletics reacts to getting the save and beating the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on June 22, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /

The Oakland Athletics are on the verge of clinching a playoff spot with a two-game lead in the wild card. But is their bullpen good enough to take them the distance?

With eight games left in the MLB’s regular season, the Oakland Athletics sit at 93-61 and two games ahead of the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays in the American League wild-card standings.

After getting beat down in the Bronx in last year’s wild-card game, the Athletics are now looking at hosting their first playoff game since their 2013 ALDS. loss to the Detroit Tigers. This year’s Athletics, in many ways, are much better than the 2018 version of the team that won 97 games.

They’re outpacing last year’s team in most traditional offensive metrics — even despite Khris Davis’ drop-off — and are now sporting the most efficient defense in the major leagues, per Fangraphs.

But a bullpen with a 3.37 ERA in 2018 has regressed in 2019, blowing a league-leading 30 saves. In the playoffs — when the stakes are sky-high and the scores are tight — a spotty bullpen can sink a team’s hopes.

The Athletics’ bullpen has been, well, spotty, but can Liam Hendricks and a couple of late-season call-ups steady things just enough for a deep postseason run?

Hendricks, for the most part, has acted as a saving grace for the Athletics in late games. Although Blake Treinen was baseball’s best reliever last season — netting 38 saves with a 0.78 ERA — he simply forgot how to pitch this season.

Treinen struggled early and his ERA and WHIP jumped dramatically. Then, Liam Hendricks, somewhat surprisingly stepped in to take control of the closer spot.

The 30-year-old Australian had spent much of his career as an average reliever, but made an All-Star leap this season, pacing the A’s bullpen with a 1.66 ERA and a 13.2 strikeout rate. As of Friday morning, Hendricks leads all major league relievers in WAR at 3.5.

Must Read. Oakland Athletics: Ushering in the Jesús Luzardo Era, pitch by pitch. light

Despite this, Hendricks hasn’t been spotless, blowing six saves, his latest coming earlier this week against the 98-loss Kansas City Royals.

If the A’s do make it to this year’s wild-card game, they’ll likely lean on Hendricks to throw two or three innings in relief, especially if they’re nursing a one or two-run lead.

It’s been nearly a year since Hendricks “opened” last year’s wild-card game against the New York Yankees by giving up a two-run moonshot to Aaron Judge. But a lot’s changed for the Athletics since then — namely, the addition of A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo to the bullpen.

More from Oakland Athletics

Throughout much of the summer, A’s fans had been calling for the promotions of Puk and Luzardo. And, as the bullpen streaked and struggled, those calls only grew louder and louder.

Puk, the A’s No. 2 prospect in the Oakland Athletics organization according to, was called up to the major leagues first, making his debut against the Yankees on August 21.

The 24-year-old only retired one of the three batters he faced but flashed his ridiculous velocity, touching 100 M.P.H. on multiple pitches. Since then, the A’s have used the 6-foot-7 southpaw sparingly, limiting him to eight total appearances.

Even then, Puk has been effective, netting two wins with a 1.93 ERA. Luzardo, the A’s No. 1 prospect, was called-up soon after, making his debut against the Houston Astros on September 11.

The 21-year-old lefty looked razor-sharp in three innings of relief, allowing a single run on a solo home run to Martin Maldonado. Like Puk, Luzardo possesses top-shelf velocity, reaching 98 or 99 mph with movement on his pitches.

More from Golden Gate Sports

And, also like Puk, the A’s have limited Luzardo’s innings. But in a one-game playoff, Puk and Luzardo’s inexperience might spell more trouble for opposing batters than for the A’s bullpen.

During the endless slog of the regular season, batters can develop a sense of familiarity with the pitchers that they face again and again. In this relationship, familiarity often favors the batter.

Deploying Puk or Luzardo in a wild-card game, or any high-stakes playoff game, has its risks, but the advantages are clear.

Outside of their limitless potential as pros, Puk and Luzardo are arms that the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians — the A’s company in the wild-card chase — haven’t encountered.

Goodbye, Fernando Rodney. If the A’s want to survive the wild-card game and make a run at the World Series, they’ll have to let Puk and Luzardo loose in October.

dark. Next. Oakland Athletics: Marcus Semien is a legitimate MVP candidate

If they’re up for the magnitude of the moment, they might just be able to leave the A’s opponents guessing when it matters most.