The news just kept getting worse for the A's Tuesday. First, the team announced that left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea will undergo shoulder surgery September 19, ending his season. Then, manager Bob Melvin told reporters in Baltimore that Manaea will likely miss all of next season as well.
Manaea, 26, will be the fifth A's starting pitcher to undergo season-ending surgery in 2018, joining Jharel Cotton, A.J. Puk, Daniel Gossett, and Kendall Graveman. Through it all, Oakland has somehow managed to put together an 88-57 record.
With Manaea officially done for 2018, Melvin faces an interesting challenge down the stretch, and into the postseason. The A's are down to just three healthy starters on the active roster in Mike Fiers, Edwin Jackson, and Trevor Cahill. Brett Anderson is expected to return from a forearm injury this week, which would make four. Daniel Mengden and Frankie Montas could also make spot starts if necessary, though they have been inconsistent.
Clearly, Fiers has emerged as the new ace of the staff. Since joining the A's, he is 5-0 with a 2.72 ERA , allowing two runs or fewer in six of his seven starts. The 33-year-old has playoff experience from his time in Houston and would likely start Oakland's first playoff game.
Jackson has to be considered the number two starter heading into the postseason. He has allowed three runs or fewer in 11 of his 14 starts this year, going 5-3 with a 3.26 ERA. At the age of 35, he also has immeasurable experience and poise on the mound.
After that it gets tricky. Cahill has been phenomenal at home, but absolutely terrible on the road. It would be almost impossible to start him away from the Coliseum in the playoffs. Luckily for the A's, managers can usually manipulate their rotation to set up favorable matchups in the postseason, thanks to extra days off for travel.
Anderson had been pitching well before going on the disabled list. If he can return to form, he would figure to round out the A's postseason rotation.
Of course, there's also the unique strategy of "bullpenning," which the A's have tried out a few times this month. Liam Hendriks has pitched three straight scoreless first innings, and he could be an option to "open" in the playoffs, backed up by Oakland's lock-down bullpen.
The A's will obviously also feel the loss of Manaea next season. Out of the four healthy members of their current starting rotation, only Fiers is under team control for next year. Cotton and Puk will both be coming off Tommy John surgery and ideally would join the rotation early in the season. Top prospect Jesus Luzardo, 20, could certainly get a shot after a tremendous season in the minors. Montas and Mengden will also have opportunities to earn spots in the rotation.
So far the A's have found a way to overcome every obstacle they've faced this season. There's no reason to believe they can't do it one more time.