I firmly believe that sports fans in the Bay Area are much too spoiled. Not only do they get perfect weather year round. Not only do they get picture perfect views from a ballpark that has witnessed three World Series champion teams in the last ten years. They also get to witness a basketball roster so loaded that they would be the betting favourite against the Monstars, snagging three championships in the past four seasons (and a few more on the way). And now across from San Fran, there’s a rag-tag group of ballplayers in Oakland who have drummed up one of the best comebacks in recent memory.
As of June 18th, the Oakland A’s were 12 games behind the Houston Astros-a team with a terrifying lineup and oh yeah, a World Series championship to defend. Anyone who had watched a baseball game in the last three years would have bet the farm on the Astros cruising to another division title as a warmup for another postseason run. But now, on August 24 with just over a month left to play, the A’s find themselves just 1.5 games back of the Astros (they had been tied until a recent two game losing streak) and are currently holding a 4 game advantage in the second American League wild card spot. And boy has it been fun to watch. A roster full of names you’ve likely never heard of made up for a 12 game difference and absolutely exploded in the second half. Bandwagon fans of the Bay Area (we know you’re out there), hop on the next trolley to Oakland and gear up for what’s going to be a hell of a finish. This includes you Giants fans, you’ve had your fun in the last eight years, hop over to the American League why don’t you.
Just how has this team been so successful? Did Brad Pitt’s Oscar worthy leadership style develop a farm system full of ripe potential? Somewhat. Did they assemble a starting rotation of surefire superstars like Houston? No, but they got Edwin Jackson! Do they feature one of the best bullpens in the game today? You bet.
But above all, a second year player has stepped up and delivered an inspiring performance at third base and in the batters box. A household name he is not, but a lock to become an MVP candidate one day? I like to think so. Ladies, gentleman, Warriors fans, it’s time to meet Mr. Matt Chapman.
When the league took a break in July for the All-Star game, Matt Chapman was batting .250/.342/.434. Since then, he has posted a split of .331/.404/.661. In addition to an OPS of 1.042, which is fourth best in the American League behind some of the leagues top power hitters in teammate Khris Davis, MVP candidate J.D Martinez and Joey Gallo of the Rangers. Not a bad second half for a second-year player who only has 17 taters for the entire year compared to fellow Athletic Davis, the league’s current leader with 39. While it may be a smaller sample size, Chapman has been a key offensive weapon in the Athletic’s batting order during the second half charge. Over his last 30 games, Chapman has reached base safely in 29 of them. He is projected to finish the year with an on-base percentage of .351, with his doubles total projected to be 37 while driving in over 60 runs. Keep in mind it’s his full season as a big leaguer. The guy can hit.
Yet, Chapman’s number one skill is easily his defense. The third basemen has compiled quite a highlight reel of defensive plays through the year, showing incredible range, hustle and arm strength. Chapman leads the American League in defensive wins above replacement (WAR) at 3.1, while his total WAR of 7.0 ranks fourth among position players in the American League. Considering the players ranked ahead of him go by the names of Betts, Trout and Ramirez, it’s easy (I hope) to see why I strongly feel Chapman will soon be a regular contender for AL MVP. Chapman makes defense look far too easy and his plays are exhilarating to watch.
MLB hitters: Stop hitting the ball to Matt Chapman pic.twitter.com/WPJeBnT4jw
— Sports Daily (@SportsDGI) August 18, 2018
If you don’t agree with me, I challenge you to take the matter up with Adrian Beltre. The soon to be hall of fame third basemen recently said Chapman may already be the game’s best occupant of the hot corner. Lofty praise when you consider that his high-school teammate Nolan Arenado still patrols third and when you consider some other exciting third basemen coming up in the league (see Jose Ramirez and Alex Bregman).
There are many other areas around the Oakland A’s clubhouse that have contributed to what will (likely) be the first postseason appearance since 2014. Jed Lowrie has been fantastic at age 34, Blake Treinen has been lights out in the closer spot and as previously mentioned, Khris Davis is leading the majors in ding dongs. Yet, on both sides of the ball, it has been the young Chapman who has emerged as the most valuable and is someone you need to get familiar with now. His teammates rave about him and he publicly pleaded for more fans to come watch his team play; the man loves playing and deserves some more fan recognition. Within a few years, he’ll be a full out superstar as his bat will continue to improve and his defense will remain a jaw dropping spectacle in Oakland.