By Morris Phillips
Winning the final six games of a seven-game road trip was exactly what the playoff-hopeful A’s needed to move clear of the Indians and Rays in the hunt for the top wild card spot in the American League.
Except that it wasn’t. Now 30 games above .500 for the first time all season, the A’s are leading the race, but certainly not home free. Upon their return to Oakland for Monday’s home game against the Royals, their mission’s not complete.
So what’s next? Just keep it up for 12 more games.
“We have our eyes on hosting a wild-card game,” said Matt Chapman, who homered for the 34th time in the ninth inning, setting the franchise record for home runs in a season with 244.
“We know this time of year you have to win a lot of games and they’re doing it at the right time,” said manager Bob Melvin.
Sean Manaea turned in his third, straight fantastic start, limiting the Rangers to three hits and a walk in six innings. One day after Mike Fiers departed early due to numbness in his pitching hand, Manaea’s outing was exactly what Oakland needed, another indication that the big lefty could play a significant role in a postseason rotation.
Manaea hit the first batter he faced, then allowed a base hit, but settled in quickly after that, inducing Willie Calhoun to hit into a double play. Come the second inning, Manaea was cruising, on his way to retiring 16 of the last 18 batters he faced.
The A’s provided Manaea the working cushion he needed in the fourth when Marcus Semien hit a two-run homer and Seth Brown added a two-run double.
Sean Murphy knocked in a run, and Jesus Lazardo pitched the final, three innings as the A’s also got vital contributions from their youngsters, participating in their first playoff push.
Semien’s 30th homer gave the A’s a trio of 30-homer guys (Chapman, Matt Olson) for the first time since 2001. The A’s bashed 20 home runs in their six-game win streak, all coming after the club was embarrassed in a 15-0 loss to the Astros on Monday.
Now six games after they were shut out and humbled, the A’s have put themselves on the doorstep of a second, consecutive playoff appearance. The journey from last year’s humbling, lightning fast postseason to the possibility of a return all starts with the A’s losing to the Yankees in New York in October.
That one-game playoff at Yankee Stadium was unsatisfying, and maybe gives the A’s their biggest advantage in navigating the season’s final two weeks. Given last year’s experience, the A’s won’t want to go on the road in the one-game playoff. They’ll be doing whatever they can to host the game and win it, which will allow them a real, postseason experience.
Winning six straight on the road after losing 15-0 may be the best illustration of how they will react.
On Monday, the A’s will turn to Tanner Roark in a matchup with Kansas City’s Glenn Sparkman at 7:05p.m.