A’s are the surprise American League team right now

Photo credit: @Athletics

By Jerry Feitelberg

The second half of the 2018 season begins on Friday when the Oakland A’s host the San Francisco Giants for three games at the Oakland Coliseum. The A’s, without question, are one of the biggest surprises in the MLB this season. They’ll resume their quest to make the playoffs. The A’s, picked by many pundits to finish last in the American League West and win no more than 67 games, are sitting in third place in the AL West and just three games behind the Seattle Mariners in the quest for the second Wild Card seed.

The A’s went 7-3 on the 10-game road trip just before the All-Star break and picked up four games on the Mariners, who went 3-7 in their last 10 games. The A’s won two out three at Cleveland then won three out of four from the Houston Astros. They almost had a sweep, but they lost a game on a very unusual play that most fans and people in the media cannot recall ever seeing. But the A’s refused to fold. They regained their composure and were able to hold their own with the Astros. The Astros arguably have the best starting rotation in baseball. The A’s were unfazed as they faced Gerrit Cole, Justin, Verlander, Lance McCullers, and Charlie Morton. They then finished the trip by winning two out three against the Giants.

The A’s, under manager Bob Melvin, shows no sign of quitting. They are very resilient and play with a ton of confidence. They know that no game is out of reach and that they have shown a propensity for scoring runs late in the game.

The starting rotation has been a work in progress all season. The A’s were counting on Jharel Cotton and A.J. Puk to be in the starting rotation. Both players are on the DL as they have had season-ending Tommy John surgeries. Paul Blackburn, Daniel Gossett, Daniel Mengden, and Andrew Triggs have all been sidelined due to injury. Mengden is off the DL, but has been optioned back to the Nashville Sounds.

The A’s current rotation consists of lefties Sean Manaea and Brett Anderson. Edwin Jackson, Trevor Cahill and Frankie Montas are the right-handed starters. Cahill and Anderson have spent time on the DL. Both have had a couple of good games, but have not been consistent. Montas is 5-2 and has impressed even the biggest critics.

The A’s bullpen has been one of the best in baseball. Emilio Pagan, Yusmeiro Petit, Ryan Buchter, Lou Trivino, and Blake Treinen have been outstanding. Chris Hatcher did well earlier in the season, but has not been effective lately. Ryan Dull and Danny Coulombe did not do the job, and both are in Nashville. Liam Hendriks and Santiago Casilla have been designated for assignment and are probably not in the A’s upcoming plans. The A’s added lefty Jeremy Bleich and righty J.B. Wendelken, but they have to prove that they can stay in Oakland.

The A’s offense is led by Jed Lowrie. Lowrie, at age 34, made the All-Star team this year. Lowrie, who set a club record with 49 doubles last year, is probably having the best year in his career. Lowrie is hitting a smidge under .290 and has 16 home runs and about 60 runs batted in so far.

The A’s have power guys up and down the lineup. Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Mark Canha, Stephen Piscotty, Marcus Semien, and Khris Davis all are capable of sending a baseball into the stratosphere.

The catching chores are handled by Jonathan Lucroy and Josh Phegley. Lucroy doesn’t have much power, but he knows how to get the most from the pitching staff and has been invaluable to the A’s.

The A’s are on the right track. The big question right now as the trade deadline nears is whether the A’s will be sellers or buyers or will they do nothing? Many think the A’s need to make a move to get another quality starter. The price could be too high for Beane and Forst to make a move. The fans would be upset if the A’s traded any of their young stars. Many people speculate that the A’s might move Lowrie and play Barreto at second base.

Time will tell, and in the meantime, the team has to keep on winning.

Power Hour: AL blows past NL in epic All-Star Game slugfest 8-6

By Morris Phillips

WASHINGTON D.C. — No one should be surprised. Power hitting is Major League Baseball’s new calling card. And the 89th All-Star Game was a portal to the game’s new, explosive look.

In a seamless coupling of the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game, the American League prevailed, winning 8-6 as Houston Astros’ teammates Alex Bregman and George Springer homered on consecutive pitches in the 10th inning. A record 10 home runs were hit in the game, and it wasn’t until the top of the 10th that a run was scored in the game without the benefit of a home run.

To recap: 10 home runs, 25 strikeouts, nine walks. Either power up, go down swinging, or take a base and get ready for your next at-bat. Just putting the ball in play? That’s passe.

“We are entertainers,” said Cleveland Indians’ Francisco Lindor.  “People want to see home runs. People want to see strikeouts.”

“At the beginning of the game it was like, ‘Man, is anyone going to get a hit other than a homer?’ At the end of the game, it was, ‘Are we going to get out of this mess?,'” Astros manager A.J. Hinch marveled.

Well, the American League escaped, Ross Stripling and the National League did not. The Dodgers’ Stripling was asked to pitch more than an inning, and threw 39 pitches, only the Astros’ Charlie Morton threw more (40). For Stripling, it was a recipe for disaster, stepping into a game running red-hot into extra innings, and try to navigate an AL lineup poised to drop bombs.

Stripling survived the ninth, replacing Brad Hand, and retiring the two batters he faced. The 10th was a different story. Stripling allowed home runs on consecutive pitches to Bregman, then Springer. Seattle Mariners’ Jean Segura and Boston Red Sox’s Mitch Moreland followed with base hits. After Yan Gomes struck out, his Cleveland teammate Michael Brantley delivered a sacrifice fly scoring Segura and the AL had a seemingly, insurmountable three-run lead.

But then Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto homered in the bottom of the inning to close the gap to 8-6. See where this is going?

A’s and Mariners start a three-game series Tuesday night in Oakland

Photo credit: @KPOD1240AM

By Jerry Feitelberg

The Oakland A’s, perhaps the surprise team of the American League, return home for a 10-game homestand. The A’s finished a 10-game road trip to New York, Boston, and Toronto with a record of 7-3. They split the first six games with New York and Boston and then won all four against Toronto. The A’s hit 19 home runs on the trip, and people around the league are starting to pay attention to what’s happening in Oakland.

There was a downside as two starting pitchers were placed on the 10-day DL. Andrew Triggs is out due to nerve irritation in his right arm, and Brett Anderson injured his left shoulder. Josh Lucas did well filling in for Anderson, and he may be called on to start a game. The A’s are now 25-22 and are 4 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros for the lead in the AL West Division.

The A’s start the homestand against their division rival, the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners own a 4-2 record against Oakland so far this year. All six games were played in Seattle, and this will be the first meeting of the teams in Oakland. The Mariners are currently in second place in the AL West with a record of 27-19. They trail the first-place Astros by two games. They are 6-4 in their last 10 games and are on a three-game winning streak.

The Mariners, however, seem to be in a bit of turmoil. Their All-Star second baseman, Robinson Cano, was hit with a double whammy last week. Cano suffered a broken thumb or wrist when he was hit by a pitch and would miss about six weeks of playing time. The second whammy that hit was an 80-game suspension for using a banned substance. The substance was Lasix or Furosemide, which is a drug used as a diuretic to remove excess water from the body. The drug is used to mask the use of steroids. Cano apologized to his teammates for his transgression. Cano can probably return in August, but he will not be eligible for postseason play.

The Mariners, as mentioned earlier, have beaten the A’s four times and lost just twice so far this year. The Mariners brought up Gordon Beckham to fill in for Cano at second. The M’s have a lot of power in their lineup. Ryon Healy, playing first base for the Mariners, came to Seattle in the deal that netted Emilio Pagan for Oakland. They have quality players such as Jean Segura at shortstop and Kyle Seager at third base. Ben Gamel, Dee Gordon, and Mitch Haniger handle the chores in the outfield. Gordon is an awesome leadoff hitter, and he plays as if he were Rickey Henderson. Haniger and Gamel have caused A’ pitchers a lot of distress and have to be shut down if the A’s want to come out with wins. Mike Zunino does most of the catching.

The Mariners’ designated hitter, Nelson Cruz, is having a tough time with injuries this year. Cruz missed two weeks when he was on the DL. After returning to action, he got sick in Toronto and then was hurt when he was hit in the foot by a pitch in a game against the Texas Rangers.

The A’s will be facing Mike Leake Tuesday night, Marco Gonzalez on Wednesday night, and their nemesis, Felix Hernandez, Thursday afternoon. Leake is 4-3, but his record is deceptive as the M’s have given him an abundance of run support. Gonzalez faced the A’s in April and went 3 1/3rd innings and gave up four runs and five hits and he was rewarded with a no-decision. On Thursday, it will be King Felix. Hernandez has a lifetime record of 26-10 against Oakland. His eyes light up when he sees the Green and Gold.

Hopefully, the A’s can turn the tables on Hernandez. The M’s lefty James Paxton will not see action in the series. Paxton’s last two outings have been outstanding. The Canadian-born Paxton threw a no-hitter against the Blue Jays for his first career complete game and then had his second complete game in his last start.

The M’s bullpen has performed well. The bullpen is staffed by setup men such as Juan Nicasio, Nick Vincent, Marc Rzepczynski, and dynamite closer Edwin Diaz. There is a new face in the M’s pen, and he is former A’s reliever, Ryan Cook. Cook, who was an All-Star with the A’s in 2012 and pitched for them until 2015, was recalled from the minors last week. Cook missed all of the 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery. Cook last pitched in the Majors in 2015, and it will be interesting to see if he has regained the form that made him an All-Star.

The A’s have shown that they have a very potent lineup. Everyone can hit the ball out of the park. Jed Lowrie, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Matt Joyce, Chad Pinder, Mark Canha, Stephen Piscotty,  Dustin Fowler, and Jonathan Lucroy are all dangerous hitters.

However, the A’s most-feared hitter, Khris Davis, strained his right groin in Sunday’s game in Toronto. The injury usually takes a while to heal, and Davis is currently day-to-day, but there is a possibility that he will be placed on the 10-day DL. Chad Pinder would probably fill in for Davis as the DH.

As mentioned above, the A’s rotation is in dire straits due to injuries. Sean Manea and Daniel Mengden pitched in Toronto and are not available under the series with Arizona. Cahill is pitching on Tuesday, and the starters for Wednesday and Thursday are to be determined. The A’s may call up Kendall Graveman from Nashville to fill in.

In other news, the A’s reinstated catcher Bruce Maxwell from the ineligible list on Monday and sent Josh Phegley back to Nashville.

Astros Jump on Hammel Early to Top A’s 8-1

By Matthew Harrington

For the fourth time in as many outings, the Oakland Athletics lost a game started by trade acquisition Jason Hammel. In need of a win to keep the Los Angeles Angels over a game back entering play Wednesday afternoon, the A’s instead fell to the Astros 8-1 at Minute Maid Park. The Green and Gold (66-41) also dropped Monday’s contest in Houston 7-3, marking Wednesday as only the second series loss in 11 chances all-time against the Astros (44-64) since the start of interleague play and Houston’s move the American League last season.

Two starts removed from a brief two-inning July 19th start where the right hander yielded five runs against the Orioles, Hammel again found himself in early trouble Wednesday afternoon. The other starter acquired in the July 4th Jeff Samardzija blockbuster surrendered six runs in a six-hit first inning, then served up a two-run home run to Jon Singleton in the fifth for eight earned runs. Hammel (8-9, 3.87 ERA) struck out four, walked a trio of Astros and scattered seven hits in his 4 1/3 innings of work to take the loss. He has now allowed 18 runs over 17 innings with the Athletics.

The lone bright spot for the A’s came in the second inning after Josh Donaldson took the first pitch, an 88 mile-per-hour fastball, of the inning over the Crawford boxes in left field. Donaldson’s 23rd homer of the season was the only run Oakland scored off Astros starter Dallas Keuchel. The southpaw (10-7, 2.97) went the distance, notching five strikeouts and a scant three hits over his complete-game gem. Billy Burns went 0-for-4 in his first major league start in the leadoff spot for Bob Melvin with Coco Crisp still in Oakland after receiving an MRI on his neck Monday.

With the A’s idle Thursday, the Angels could pull a half-game back of Oakland by the time the AL West Leaders open up a 10-game homestand Friday night against the Kansas City Royals. The Halos, sitting two games back at the moment, play an evening game against the Baltimore Orioles Wednesday before wrapping up the four-game set at Camden Yards Thursday.

Opening Day starter Sonny Gray will open the weekend series for the A’s Friday night looking for a superhuman effort on a night when O.Co Coliseum will be lit up with a postgame super hero-inspired fireworks display. He’ll clash with the Royals’ Jeremy Guthrie in an attempt to save the dwindling AL-West lead from peril.

After three against the Royals, the surging Tampa Bay Rays roll into town (with or without hot trade commodity David Price) for a three-game set followed by a four-game series against former Athletic Kurt Suzuki and the Minnesota Twins. August 9th against the Twins, fans will receive a special Tony La Russa Hall of Fame bobblehead in honor of the legendary skipper’s induction into Cooperstown earlier this month.

Moss Homer, No-Hit Rally Lift Athletics over Rays 3-2

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 21: Pitcher Sean Doolittle (C) of the Oakland Athletics celebrates his save with teammates Fernando Abad #56 of the Oakland Athletics and catcher Derek Norris #36 of the Oakland Athletics after striking out Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays to end the ninth inning of a game on May 21, 2014 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL – MAY 21: Pitcher Sean Doolittle (C) of the Oakland Athletics celebrates his save with teammates Fernando Abad #56 of the Oakland Athletics and catcher Derek Norris #36 of the Oakland Athletics after striking out Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays to end the ninth inning of a game on May 21, 2014 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

By Matthew Harrington

The Oakland Athletics managed only one hit against the Tampa Bay Rays Wednesday evening at Tropicana Field, but the lone base knock proved to be an efficient one. Brandon Moss’ solo home run in the fourth inning proved to be the game-winner in a 3-2 decision over Tampa Bay (19-28). Oakland (30-16) also scored two unearned runs in the second, proving to be all the run support Tommy Milone (2-3, 3.99 ERA) would need. The lefty fired 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball, outdueling Erik Bedard for a fifth-straight victory for the Green and Gold (30-16), leaders of the AL West by four games. Sean Doolittle converted the save just hours after manager Bob Melvin declared the flame-throwing southpaw full-time fireman, replacing the previously employed closer-by-committee approach.

To open the second inning, the A’s loaded the bases on Bedard without registering a hit. Yoenis Cespedes reached on an errant throw from shortstop Yunel Escobar that pulled James Loney off the bag at first base. Derek Norris and Brandon Moss followed the error with back-to-back walks and nowhere to put Alberto Callaspo, but the second basemen struck out for the first out of the inning.

Defensive miscues doomed Bedard’s brilliant performance though after a second error in the inning brought Cespedes and Norris around for a 2-0 lead. Rays second-sacker Sean Rodriguez turned a surefire double-play from Josh Reddick into a two-run mistake, sailing the potential twin-killing feed to Escobar into left field instead. The misplay gave Cespedes and Norris ample time to cross home plate from third and second base respectively.

While the A’s bedeviled the Rays to two runs on four base runners without a hit earlier, it only took one batter in the fourth for Oakland to add to the lead. With two outs in the top of the fourth, Brandon Moss crushed a first-pitch hanging breaking ball from Bedard to right field for his 10th long ball of the season to make it 3-0 for the visitors. Moss collected his 40th RBI of the season, the fourth-highest total in the Majors this season. Moss is also second in the junior circuit in on-base plus slugging percentage (.988) and sixth in the AL in on-base percentage (.393) in a quest for his first All-star bid of his career.

Tampa scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth on run-scoring singles from Loney and Escobar, the latter of which greeted reliever Fernando Rodriguez into the game. Rodriguez relieved Milone, who departed the game responsible for one run already and on the hook for a pair of runners on base as well. Only one of the runners scored before Rodriguez could retire the side, closing the book on Milone after three strike-outs and a solitary walk issued. His opponent Bedard (2-2, 2.63) went 5 1/3 innings, striking out six Athletics while yielding the lone hit to Moss for the only earned run of the night

After closing out the sixth inning, Rodriguez pitched a scoreless seventh before handing the ball over to Luke Gregerson for the eighth. Gregerson retired Evan Longoria looking at strike three but surrendered consecutive singles to Loney and pinch-hitter Matt Joyce to put the tying run at third with only one out.

Fernando Abad, the Athletics most reliable reliever this season, entered the game trying to cut off the Rays rally. He lost David DeJesus on a full-count base on balls to fill the bases with Rays but induced a lead-saving double play from Escobar to end the inning and the stamp out the Tampa scoring threat at two runs.

Sean Doolittle pitched a near-perfect ninth for his fourth save of the season, striking out two while allowing a lone hit to close out the game and put Oakland in line for the sweep in the Sunshine State. A’s ace Sonny Gray will take the bump for Thursday’s matinee from the Trop looking for win number six in a row for Melvin and associates. He’ll be opposed by the Ray’s Alex Cobb in the finale before the team heads north of the border for a weekend series in Toronto. The Blue Jays currently stand tied with the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East.

“Acquired Taste” Upsets A’s Appetite For Scoring

By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. – Monday night marked a pitching matchup of eerily similar pitcher profiles. Two players amid career renaissances met in a showdown that would have stolen the Sportscenter spotlight just six or seven years ago by now over a half-decade later proved to be a showdown between starters just now rediscovering the promise of their abilities. In the end the outcome was just as unexpected as the winning pitcher’s ability to find a way to win.

The Seattle Mariners (15-15) bested the Oakland Athletics in the battle of the unbeaten starters, with lanky right hander Chris Young topping fellow former All-Star Scott Kazmir on a Monday evening match-up at O.Co Coliseum. Oakland got a two run home run from Brandon Moss but M’s outfielder’s Stefan Romero’s first career long ball proved the difference-maker as Young and the Seattle bullpen held the Swinging A’s to just four hits in a 4-2 Mariners win.

“You don’t see him a lot,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “He’s an acquired taste. He’s unique in what he does. You look at the gun, he’s throwing 85 miles per hour throwing balls by you.”

Young (2-0, 3.03 ERA) baffled A’s hitters despite boasting a fastball that could be measured in miles per day, not hour. Young’s “heater” sat comfortably in the mid-to-low eighties on the radar gone throughout the evening, a speed that’d usually make any pro hitter’s eyes light up. Despite the shortcomings in velocity, the towering 6-foot-10 righty pitched six innings, holding the A’s (19-13) to just three hits while striking out and walking a pair each.

“It’s just different than a lot of guys you face,” said Moss of facing Young. “Obviously it looks like he’s throwing soft and the radar gun says he’s throwing soft but the way he pitches up and down makes it tough. It’s so rare that you see something like that. With that arm angle and that height it looks like he’s throwing out of the sky.”

Young did not pitch in the MLB at all during 2013 and pitched a combined 159 innings with the New York Mets and San Diego Padres since 2010. Like pitching foe Kazmir, Young appeared on the track to superstardom after earning an All-Star spot in 2007 with the Padres but had injuries derail a promising career. Young picked up the loss in the game, saw his ERA balloon from 3.12 in 2007 to 3.96 in 2008 before bloating to 5.21 in 2009. He now appears on track to becoming a valuable contributor to an MLB team after being released by the Washington Nationals earlier in the Spring.

“He’s not a guy that some team just runs out there,” echoed Moss. “He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to pitch. He knows how to get outs when he needs them. People see velocity and they want to judge people on that, but he can pitch.”

Young’s over-the-top delivery baffled Oakland batters for three and 1/3 no-hit innings to open play before shortstop Jed Lowrie broke through with his fourth-inning, no-out single. Left fielder Moss plated Lowrie with his two-run blast to right center on a belt-high 86 mph fastball, his fifth round-tripper of the season. The dinger marks the 10th all-time round-tripper against Seattle for Moss, the most he’s hit against one team.

“It was a mistake,” said Moss of the pitch he hammered over the wall. “He had thrown me one there earlier in the at-bat and I was in front of it. The more pitches I saw, the better my timing got. He’s a tough guy to face.”

Moss’ four-bagger pulled Oakland even after the Mariners capitalized early on an off-night from Kazmir (4-1, 2.64) by pushing two runs across in the first inning. Leadoff man Michael Saunders and Stefan Romero greeted the southpaw with back-to-back singles just out of reach of A’s infielders to open the game. Big offseason acquisition Robinson Cano struck out looking but designated hitter Corey Hart drove a single through the right side of the infield to bring Saunders around from second.

“That’s baseball,” said Kazmir. “I just had to focus on the stuff that I can control. With Saunders I ended up getting two strikes on him. I tried throwing him a fastball outside but it ended up being right over the middle of the plate and up and he was able to handle it. Then there was the changeup hit into the hole (by Romero). That’s something where, if maybe I pitched a little better there’d be a different outcome. After that first inning I just tried to get as deep as I could into the game.”

Romero advanced to third on the play as well, though if Craig Gentry weren’t subbing in in right field due to Josh Reddick’s ankle injury sustained Sunday in Boston, a play at the plate or third base could have been a possibility. Romero instead came around to score on Kyle Seager’s groundout for a 2-0 M’s lead with a half inning in the books. Romero also touched Kazmir for another run in the fifth, turning around a Kazmir 0-1 delivery to left field for his first homer in the Major Leagues.

“His velocity was down,” said batterymate Jaso. “He left a couple off-speed pitches in the zone. The homer was on a changeup and it was on a guy who swings and misses on changeups but location is key. When he got hurt it was just location.”

Kazmir opened the sixth inning by surrendering a 1-2 count single to Cole Gillespie, then watched him advance to second on a wild pitch to Brad Miller. The Seattle shortstop connected on the run-scoring base hit after lifting a fly ball to left field. Moss original charged the ball and appeared to have a chance to make a routine catch, but he put up a hand to his face as the ball dropped in front of him for the hit.

“As soon as it went up it went in the lights,” said Moss, primarily a first basemen by trade. “I was hoping it would come out of it but I could tell that it wasn’t going to. I tried to back up and keep it in front of me. I wanted to keep the runner from second from scoring and keep the other guy on first. I backed up and tried to get it in to (Donaldson) as quick as possible. Sometimes those plays feel worse than errors. At least when you make an error, you know it’s your fault. You can take ownership for it. When something like that happens, that’s tough. You want to make plays for your guys.”

Miller swiped second and third off Kazmir with catcher Mike Zunino at the plate, but third basemen Josh Donaldson cut a greey Miller down at the plate after he tried to score on a tapper down the line. Catcher John Jaso applied the tag for the easy out.

Seattle ran into the third out of the inning as well when Moss caught Zunino trying to go first-to-third on a Saunders single in the gap to left center. Moss atoned for his early miscue after his throw beat Zunino to the bag for the tag by Donaldson.

Kazmir departed the game after the inning, allowing four runs on eight hits with only three punchouts and a pair of walks. Kazmir also plunked Hart for the lone hit-by-pitch of the game and fired one wild pitch in a night where his best stuff and usual velocity eluded him.

“They just got to him early,” said Melvin of his veteran hurler. “They got him out of his rhythm early on. He recovered some, he battled. It probably wasn’t the best stuff we’ve seen this year. The velocity was down a little bit. You’re going to have days like that but he still kept us in the game.”

The A’s put the leadoff batter on just once all night after Donaldson singled up the middle in the bottom of the seventh, reaching base in the 27th-straight contest. The next batter Moss fell behind 0-2 before drawing the walk in a 12 pitch battle against Young. Manager Lloyd McClendon saw enough out of his starter, lifting him for lefty Charlie Furbush to face designated hitter Alberto Callaspo.

Callaspo entered play Monday night hitting .308 with runners on base. The switch-hitter also came having hit into six double plays, “good” for second in the American League. Callaspo added to that total, bouncing into the 6-4-3 twin killing.

“He hits it hard,” said Melvin of Callaspo’s grounder. “He just hit it right at the shortstop. (Callaspo) is a guy we feel good about in those situations. He’s gotten big hits for us all year. Sometimes you just square it up and hit it right at someone. It was a bit of a momentum changer.”

Pinch hitter Derek Norris walked off newly-inserted reliever Dominic Leone to keep the A’s threat. A’s manager Bob Melvin sent Reddick to the plate for Gentry, but ended up burning the outfielder’s availability after McClendon countered by calling on Joe Beimel for the lefty-lefty match-up. Melvin sent Yoenis Cespedes, another ailing Athletics outfielder, to the plate in Reddick’s stead, but the 2013 Home Run Derby champion popped out to Cano at second to end the rally.

“He was good enough to swing the bat,” said Melvin when asked after the game if he’d send a hampered Reddick to the plate. “He was good enough to potentially stay with it.”

In total, Seattle used five relievers with set-up man Yoervis Medina picking up his seventh hold and Fernando Rodney completed a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his eighth save on the campaign. Fernando Abad pitched a dominant seventh inning for Oakland and Ryan Cook pitched two innings to avoid taxing a green and gold bullpen that pitched four innings in a 3-2 extra innings win at Boston Sunday.

The A’s have now dropped three of their last four after exploding for 12 runs Wednesday to complete a sweep of the Texas Rangers. The A’s have scored just eight runs in the quartet of contests since. They’ll look to regain the scoring touch against Roenis Elias in game two of the four-game set Tuesday night. Oakland will counter with the surprise player of the season, Jesse Chavez.

“That’s just how it goes,” said Jaso. “There are ups and downs throughout the year. Maybe tomorrow we’ll come out and score ten, maybe we’ll win a 1-0 ballgame. You never know, that’s just how it works.”

Gray Dominates, Darvish Scuffles As Oakland Takes AL West Lead

Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54) throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers, Monday, April 28, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54) throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers, Monday, April 28, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

By Matthew Harrington

All eyes were focused as two opposing aces took the hill Monday night at Globe Life Park in Arlington, with the visiting Oakland Athletics countering Texas Rangers star Yu Darvish with young phenom Sonny Gray in the battle for first place in the American League West. The A’s (16-10)proved victorious behind their young arm, securing a 4-0 decision to open up the three-game series against the 2010 World Series runner-ups and take their place atop the division standings.

For Darvish, a pattern of struggles against the A’s plagued the Japanese sensation once again in one of his worst starts since exploding on the Major League scene in 2012. His foe in green and gold produced an earmarked performance which, to date, goes down as Gray’s greatest outing in his blossoming career pegged for superstardom.

The Swinging A’s knocked Darvish around early, scoring four runs and knocking the Rangers All-Star out of the game after 3 1/3 innings. Darvish retired seven of the first eight batters he faced, but his lack of command of the strike zone forced him out of the game trailing 4-0 with 83 pitches thrown. Monday marked just the second time in 66 career starts Darvish failed to pitch through five innings, with his loss to Gray being the shortest appearance of his career. Darvish (1-1, 2.59) is now 1-7 against Oakland with a mortal ERA of 4.73 all-time.

Gray took the decision of who pitches the ninth inning out of manager Bob Melvin’s hands, pitching his first ever complete game. Rumors had swirled that Jim Johnson, relegated to middle relief after a pair of rough outings to open the season, may see a return to the closer’s role. The A’s starter ensured the speculation would continue on another day, finishing his masterpiece himself to open the three-game series in Texas. Gray needed 108 pitches, 73 for strikes, to dispatch the Rangers (15-11) handedly Monday night. Gray (4-1, 1.76) picked up six strikeouts with only one walk while allowing only three hits including a generous scoring decision on catcher Robinson Chirinos’ single in the sixth inning.

Athletics third basemen Josh Donaldson delivered the big blow of the day, ripping a two-run single with the bases loaded in the third for a 2-0 lead with one out. Catcher John Jaso greeted Darvish with a single to open the next inning before coming home on Josh Reddick’s line-drive triple to right in the following at-bat. First basemen Daric Barton scored Reddick with a sacrifice fly for the fourth and final A’s run. Darvish faced one more batter, walking Eric Sogard before turning the game over to Aaron Poreda. Poreda finished the inning before starter Nick Martinez came out of the bullpen to pitch the final five scoreless frames.

The Rangers best chance to touch Gray up for a run came in the sixth inning after Chironos reached first with one out on a play scored a hit after shortstop Jed Lowrie deflected the ball to Donaldson at third base. Chironos advanced to second on a wild pitch with Michael Choice at the plate. Choice lined out, but Chironos moved to third on another wild pitch with Elvis Andrus at the dish. Andrus grounded out to third to end the scoring threat.

The Rangers only other at-bat with a man in scoring position came with Leonys Martin at second base after a single and a Chirinos hit-by-pitch with one out in the bottom of the third. Gray induced a grounder from Choice on an 0-1 count that Lowrie scooped up at short, stepping on second base for the force out before firing the ball to first to complete the twin killing and escape unscathed.

The A’s continue game two of the three-game set Tuesday evening, sending Texas native Scott Kazmir to the mound looking to remain undefeated on the season and add to a now one-game division lead over the team in the opposing dugout. The Rangers counter with lefty Martin Perez, author of a three-hit complete game shutout of his own against Gray and the A’s at O.Co Coliseum last Wednesday.

Rangers Sweep A’s Out Of First Place, Steal AL’s Best Record on Perez’s Complete-Game Shutout

By Matthew Harrington

For the first time in the 2014 season, the Oakland Athletics failed to pick up a single win in a series, dropping the Wednesday matinee finale 3-0 to suffer a sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers at O.Co Coliseum. Southpaw Martin Perez (4-0, 1.42 ERA) out-dueled A’s ace Sonny Gray,  taming the potent Oakland offense in a complete game, three-hit shutout. The win improbably propels the Rangers (14-8), battered with injuries to key personnel at nearly every spot on the diamond, over the A’s to the best record in the American League and first place in the division.

The A’s (13-8) only had one batter advance past first base all afternoon. Josh Donaldson doubled on a line drive to Michael Choice in left field with one down in the bottom of the seventh but the A’s failed to convert on the opportunity with a man in scoring position. Perez followed up Oakland’s other two base-hits, singles by Jed Lowrie and catcher Derek Norris, by inducing the next batter to bounce into a double-play each time. Lowrie, Donaldson and Norris were the only A’s base runners all afternoon, as Donaldson and Norris also drew the only two walks for the green and gold.

A couple of players with ties to the A’s, including former prospect Michael Choice and one-time utility infielder Donnie Murphy, collected run-scoring base hits to lead the visitors over the A’s for Oakland’s first loss by more than two runs this season.

Texas touched Gray (3-1, 2.25 ERA) up for a run in the first inning after the A’s starter gave up a walk to ex-Athletics farmhand Michael Choice. Gray bounced back to strike out Elvis Andrus, finishing off the shortstop looking on a masterful 80 mph curveball. Gray didn’t fare as well against Alex Rios who ripped an 0-1 fastball to left field for an RBI triple and a 1-0. The Rangers scored in the first inning in all three games of the series.

With Rios 90 feet from home and only one out, the Rangers appeared on the verge of a big inning. The clean-up hitter Prince Fielder appeared to expand the visiting team advantage after grounding a Gray offering to shortstop Jed Lowrie. Lowrie made the heads up play to try to cut an advancing Rios down at home plate, but home plate umpire Larry Vanover signaled Rios safe on the tag play. After A’s manager Bob Melvin challenged the play, the call on the field was overturned and the second run of the game became the second out instead.

The Rangers tagged Gray with another run after Leonys Martin singled to open the fifth then came around on Choice’s one-out single to center fielder Craig Gentry. Choice, Oakland’s no. 3 prospect in 2013 according to Baseball America, came over in the December trade that brought Gentry and Josh Lindblom to Alameda County. The A’s also shipped infielder Chris Bostick, the only player in the deal without Major League experience this year, to the Lone Star state.

One inning later Donnie Murphy wrapped up the scoring, launching a 3-1 fastball over the wall in left for a 3-0 Rangers lead. Gray fed Murphy a steady diet of fastballs in the at-bat, throwing five-straight heaters to the Rangers second sacker.

Gray pitched another scoreless inning but his offense couldn’t pick him up in the end. He headed to the showers down 3-0 on five hits and three earned runs. Gray struck out eight and walked four. Drew Pomeranz and Jim Johnson finished up the loss with a scoreless inning a piece.

Oakland hits the road for the next 10 games, heading to both American League outposts in Texas before a trip to Boston to face the defending World Series Champion Red Sox. The A’s open the road trip with a quartet against the Houston Astros, a team the A’s swept before seeing roles reversed against the Rangers. Scott Kazmir will take the mound for the second consecutive game against the ‘Stros. The veteran hurler pitched eight innings and surrendered three runs, two earned, but picked up the no decision on April 19th. Just like in that Saturday Showdown, he’ll be opposed by winless lefty Brett Oberholtzer. Oberholtzer gave up a lone run in five and two-third innings of work against the A’s.