Kurtenbach: The A’s finally look worthwhile. It’s just another gut-punch for Oakland

OAKLAND — There’s something downright cruel about it.

Sadly, such a punishment is not unusual from the Oakland Athletics.

Of course, the A’s developed into a team worth watching just before they head out of The Town.

Yes, there’s something to these 2024 A’s. They’ve won back-to-back straight series, sit in the middle of the American League West standings (above the Astros), and have arguably the best 1-2 end-of-game bullpen punch in baseball right now.

They’re young, homegrown, punchy, and now that they’ve started hitting a bit (10th in baseball in OPS over the last 15 games), they’ve become quite interesting.

Now, I don’t think the A’s are going to close out the Coliseum with a World Series win, or even playoff baseball, but while this organization might not be building a ballpark in Oakland — or Las Vegas, for that matter — early returns suggest that the front office has, against all odds and the will of their owner, built another worthwhile team.

These guys might just be mediocre. And I mean that as a compliment. After all, in the modern game, mediocre pays big — even if the A’s don’t.

What a waste.

Wednesday was a perfect day for baseball — seventy-two degrees and sunny — and the A’s finished off a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 4-0 win. Starting pitcher Ross Stripling earned his first victory since 2022 by throwing six shutout innings, and Abraham Toro and Tyler Nevin stayed hot with solo home runs each.

There were even a few “Let’s Go Oak-Land” chants as closer Mason Miller blitzed 101 mile-per-hour fastballs to proceed another P.A. rendition of “Celebration.”

I can think of a million worse ways to spend two-and-a-half hours on a May afternoon.

But thanks to years of fan neglect and an ownership strategy that blatantly rips off the 1989 classic movie Major League, the game was only played in front of a crowd of hundreds (laughably announced as 4,679, half of which seemed to be the kids who sang the national anthem).

In all, the paid attendance for the three-game series was 12,083.

Woof.

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The A’s treated their fans terribly. Are the other Bay Area pro teams that much better?

Now, I’m in no way advocating giving A’s owner John Fisher — the real-life, far-less-attractive Rachel Phelps (the team has wisely opted against a risqué cutout in the clubhouse) — a cent of your hard-earned money.

But, much like how we often have to separate art from the artist or the politician from the country, we have to ignore the soulless, vapid, and soporific owner of a group of players who might just be the opposite.

The A’s lost 112 games last year. They started this season with a woeful, everyone-saw-it-coming 1-7 start.

It might have been the best thing for them.

“We were all pressing — trying to do too much,” catcher Shea Langeliers told me. “Now we have kind of a looser grip on the steering wheel. We went to Detroit (1-7) and (decided) let’s just go out there, have fun, and relax. It helped us come together as a team. We’re having a good time.”

And anyone who hasn’t been scared away from this organization would be having a good time, too.

It makes sense. Of course, a bunch of young guys — a roster full of players being paid pennies compared to their peers — were pressing to start the season. They were trying to prove they were big league.

But now, the prevailing wisdom is clear: what’s the worst that can happen?

You can sense that devil-may-care attitude when the A’s play.

Over their last 25 games, the A’s have won 15, winning a series against the Rangers, Orioles, and Tigers, and splitting a four-game set in the Bronx with the Yankees. (I’m sure that was a sad outcome for Fisher, whose favorite player is Aaron Judge.)

As such, I’ve been A’s curious for a few weeks now. And with the Giants so far trotting out another limp, lifeless product, I, unlike Fisher, am keen to invest in the Oakland Nine.

Because not only is this team playing good ball, but they seem to be scratching the surface.

The A’s offense has been jump-started by the red-hot play of Nevin, Toro, and centerfielder JJ Bleday as of late. They’re classic A’s “misfit toys,” making the most of their opportunities.

Surely, that trio won’t stay hot forever, but it’d be foolish to think they haven’t proven they’re everyday big leaguers.

And what happens when the young players expected to lead the A’s this season — Langeliers, outfielder Lawrence Butler, and currently injured second baseman Zack Gelof — find their swings at the plate?

There are hints that Langeliers, for one, is on the verge of a breakthrough.

The A’s catcher — the only worthwhile piece of the team’s last fire sale of All-Star talent — is barreling the ball as frequently as Juan Soto this season. It’s only a matter of time before those hard-hit balls start avoiding gloves and carrying walls.

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All this to say that there’s a real chance the A’s offense of late might be the A’s offense we should expect for the rest of the season. And seeing as that is rightly perceived as the team’s weakness, it’s an encouraging development.

There’s no question about the bullpen. With the indomitable combination of South Bay flamethrower Lucas Erceg and Miller — there’s no better eighth- and ninth-inning pair in the game — the A’s are playing commissioner Rob Manfred’s ideal form of baseball: a seven-inning game.

And this A’s rotation is underrated, pairing big-time stuff (J.P. Sears, Joe Boyle) with valuable experience (Paul Blackburn, Alex Wood, Stripling).

In all, you have a team that can punch well above its weight. And those are the kind of teams I like to watch.

“We’re definitely focused on continuing in this direction,” manager Mark Kotsay said Wednesday. “(It’s) about the details of the game and the fundamentals. We might have given away free bases today — it was a bit of a rough defensive game — but when we had to make plays, we made plays.

Those types of plays are being made, and we’re getting the pitching from the starters to the bullpen. And when those things start to align, and the offense is scoring enough runs …”

Let me finish for you, Mark: It creates a product worth watching.

But we return to the elephant in the room. And no, I’m not referencing Stomper.

If this is the start of another A’s cycle — if a wave of wins is building, the East Bay won’t be able to ride it.

No, this will be Sacramento’s team next season. (Or will it be? The A’s won’t be claiming the city.)

At some point, maybe, it will be Las Vegas’. We’ll see.

It would be great if there was a Major League-like ending, where the A’s get hot, stay hot, and play so well that they keep the team in the Coliseum for years to come.

Sadly, this movie will have a different ending.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t be worth watching in the interim.

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