A’s Stay Hot, Take Series From Rays

You know you’re going good when your team manages just one hit in a ballgame but wins the game anyway. That’s exactly what the A’s pulled off in the middle game of a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays which saw the green and gold take two out of three, and miss sweeping the series by a hairsbreadth. The A’s continued their hot play by winning the first two games from the Rays at Tropicana Field, and even a rare bullpen meltdown in the third game couldn’t dampen what has been a very successful week for the Oakland crew.

The Rays were picked by many to win the American League East this season, but they’ve hardly met those expectations thus far and have struggled out of the gate. They carried an unimpressive 19-26 record into the series with Oakland in an early season marred by several key injuries to their starting rotation. In stark contrast, the A’s came into the series rolling, winners of nine of their last ten games and carrying the best record in the major leagues.

The A’s quickly took advantage of the slumping Rays in the series’ first two games. On Tuesday, Oakland starter Drew Pomeranz continued his brilliant pitching by throwing five shutout innings, and the A’s bullpen completed the shutout of the Rays as the A’s won 3-0. Pomeranz now has a microscopic 0.94 ERA on the season, and has yet to give up a single run as a starter.

On Wednesday, the A’s got just one hit, a solo home run by Brandon Moss in the fourth inning, but won the game anyway, capitalizing on some shoddy Tampa Bay defense and a strong start by Tommy Milone. Milone pitched into the sixth inning, allowing just two runs, and the A’s bullpen once again blanked the Rays offense for the rest of the game as the A’s won 3-2. Oakland also managed seven walks and scored their first two runs in the second inning on a bad throw on a double play attempt by second baseman Sean Rodriguez with the bases loaded.

The A’s then came within one out of a sweep on Thursday, but the Rays salvaged the series with some last minute heroics. The A’s trailed 1-0 going into the ninth inning, having been flustered all game by Rays starter Alex Cobb and two relievers. However, former Athletic and currently-struggling Rays closer Grant Balfour came on and allowed the A’s to tie it on a one-out double by Yoenis Cespedes. In the 11th inning, Cespedes put the A’s ahead with a sacrifice fly.

Unfortunately, the A’s had some of their recent magic thrown back at them in the bottom of the inning. Dan Otero, in his third inning of work, put two runners on with two outs, and Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings lined a 3-2 pitch to center to tie the game. Luke Gregerson then relieved Otero, but Sean Rodriguez greeted him with a shot over the left field fence for a game-winning, three-run home run, and the A’s lost the game 5-2.

Despite failing to complete the sweep in Tampa, the A’s are riding high, entering today with a major-league best 30-17 record. As I had pointed out earlier this week, the A’s have the best run differential in the majors so far, and it’s not even close. The A’s increased that total by one in the Rays series, and enter this weekend at an imposing +96. The boys in green and gold now head for one of the toughest tests of the young season, as they go into a three-game series starting tonight in Toronto. The hard-hitting Blue Jays currently sit atop the AL East with a 26-22 record, and also lead the American League in home runs and slugging percentage.