By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND–For a last place club, the A’s sure have a way about themselves. Maybe, that’s because they’re not going to be a last place club much longer.
Winning 14 of 17 in September has the A’s within striking distance of the fourth place Mariners, who visit the Coliseum for the final three home games starting Monday. The A’s have been stuck in the AL West cellar since May 30, and haven’t had a winning month in well over a year. The monthly streak is likely to end, while catching the Mariners will be significantly trickier. But either way, the A’s biggest winning roll since 2013 portends better days ahead.
With a youthful club stripped of almost all of its veteran presence, the A’s haven’t stepped back, they’ve stepped forward, sweeping the Rangers with a 8-1 win Sunday to backup a rare, succesful road trip. Manager Bob Melvin’s list of needed improvements wasn’t short or easily achievable, but his club made all the checkmarks anyway.
“We needed to play better against Houston and we swept them,” Melvin recounted. “Second was we had to play better on the road, and we had a good road trip. And then we want to finish up here and play well within our division because we have not played well within our division this year.”
In a season where the norms for winning big league ballgames has shifted dramatically, the A’s have been ahead of the curve. Scoring is up slightly, home runs are being hit at a record pace, and the percentage of at-bats that end with either a strikeout, a walk or a home run has never been higher.
Wait for the big inning then pounce? You could term it that. It’s definitely not Moneyball, but maybe Moneyball 2.0. Whatever you call it, the A’s are good at it, with Sunday’s five-run fifth the latest example.
With Rangers’ starter Martin Perez softened up by being forced to throw 71 pitches through four innings, the pitcher reached the breaking point in the fifth by allowing singles to Josh Phlegley and Jake Smolinsky.
Marcus Semien then popped out trying to advance the runners with a bunt. Martin’s next pitch was roped by Matt Chapman for an RBI double, then four pitches after that, Jed Lowrie contributed a two-run double. That chased Perez before he could finish five innings, and qualify for a win.
Capping the inning, Khris Davis greeted effective reliever Tony Barnette with a 445-foot bomb with a man aboard, and the A’s led 5-0. Davis has now homered 40 times in consecutive seasons, a first for an Oakland Athletic.
The A’s would add two in the sixth, and one more in the eight and the rout was on.
Currently, the A’s rank in the top five in the American League in homers, walks and strikeouts. While Melvin and the A’s would love to see the strikeouts reduced (the A’s average more than nine a game) the additional pitches extracted from the opposing pitcher have the desired effect of elevating pitch counts as Perez’ number grew burdensome on Sunday.
Jharel Cotton was the beneficiary of the runs against Texas, pitching five innings to earn the win, his ninth.
For the A’s on Sunday, that’s hitting, pitching, and defense as the club committed no errors, and turned a nifty double play. Check, check and check.
“Let the teams in our division know we’re on our way back,” Melvin said. “This three-year period we’ve gone through is hopefully over.”