The A’s still have one more game to play in Minnesota, today at 10am local time, before heading to Texas for a three-game showdown with their main division rival, the Rangers.
Following their split of the first two games of the series, a heartbreaking loss on Tuesday in a game in which they lead, and the blowout laugher yesterday that saw them 18-3 winners over a battered Twins’ pitching staff, the A’s will look to win the series today and push their division lead to 3.5 games over the idle Rangers.
At worst, Oakland will head into Texas with a 2.5 game lead, with the ability to bury the Rangers 5.5 games back with an at-best series sweep this weekend, or at worst, be no more than a half game out of first place if the Rangers were able to sweep the series. The likely outcome probably falls somewhere in between with Oakland maintaining a lead and escaping Texas in great shape to win the AL West.
Following the Texas series, the A’s will have a seven game homestand against the Angels (three games) and another series against the Twins. It’s then back out on the road for the final road trip of the season against the Angels, again, and the Seattle Mariners. That’s 13 games to end the season against sub-.500 teams. Meanwhile, Texas will have to play out their final seven-game road trip against the Tampa Bay Rays for four games and the Kansas City Royals for three before heading back home to finish against the Astros and Angels. Tampa Bay is currently 78-66 and clinging to the second Wild Card berth for the playoffs and the Royals are 77-69 and just two games out. Both teams will present a challenge to a reeling Rangers’ ball club.
Looking at the two schedules of the A’s and the Rangers following completion of their weekend series, it’s hard to see where the Rangers would be able to make up much ground if Oakland is able to add any distance at all between the two in the standings.
The A’s appear to be heating up at just the right time as well. After just barely edging the .500 mark for August at 14-13, the A’s have started September with a 6-3 record so far and are currently winners of seven of their last ten and 11 of their last 14 since losing two of three in Baltimore August 23-25. More impressive, Oakland has achieved this while having to take on the Detroit Tigers, Tampa Bay Rays and the Rangers. Oakland is proving over and over again that they can win series against postseason bound competitors.
Jarrod Parker, Bartolo Colon and Sonny Gray are forming a solid 1-2-3 heading into the playoffs and Dan Straily has shown that when he is on, he can be a very tough pitcher to face off against too. A little run support and Straily cruises. A.J. Griffin, for all his struggles giving up the long ball, isn’t looking too shabby either at 13-9 with a 3.91 ERA. If he can keep the ball in the yard, he’s also a reliable option. Keeping in mind that both Brett Anderson and Tommy Milone are now pitching out of the bullpen, and Oakland has seven starters that have proven they can win big games on the Major League level (even with some struggles this season for Milone and Anderson being kept in mind).
You need not look any further back than yesterday to see just how explosive the A’s offense can be when they are clicking. Josh Donaldson has 21 homers on the season, Yoenis Cespedes has 22, Brandon Moss has 26 and Coco Crisp has a career-high 19 long balls. Jed Lowrie, Josh Reddick and Chris Young are also all in double digits.
Concerns of the bullpen stability? Well, these may be a little misguided.
The bullpen, as a whole on the season, has been solid. They get the attention when they cough up a game as they did on Tuesday, but Dan Otero is sporting a 1.41 ERA, Ryan Cook a 2.18 ERA, Sean Doolittle a 3.48, Jerry Blevins a 3.54, and the closer, Grant Balfour, is sitting at 2.59 with 37 saves in 39 attempts. With Jesse Chavez, Milone and Anderson as your long men, Oakland is equipped to showdown in any battle of the bullpens.
Nobody is sizing the team for World Series rings quite yet, but the outlook for repeating as AL West Division Champs is certainly looking better and better by the day. A win today would put the team up 3.5 games and guarantee that they stay ahead of Texas in the standings regardless of the outcome of the weekend series. Winning that series would put a lot of pressure on a Rangers’ team that is already fighting an uphill battle against a tougher schedule.
Once they finally secure their trip to the postseason, hopefully a five-game division series rather than the one-game Wild Card play-in game, all bets are off. The A’s certainly have a team that is built to compete and could win it all. As we’ve learned from past seasons, and past playoff teams, never assume you’re assured of anything.
This A’s team seems to understand that, and under manager Bob Melvin, they never take their foot off the gas pedal. They got a taste last year before ultimately watching their cross-Bay rivals win it all. This team is hungry and relentless against any opponent. Every game is a game that they not only could win, but should win.
It’s that mentality that has them looking good heading into the weekend series, down the stretch, and hopefully well into October. It’s the make-up of champions, and that’s exactly how the A’s have been playing over the past year+ of baseball.