By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND–This may have been the worst Texas Rangers team to visit the Oakland Coliseum. The A’s treated them in the best way they know how… with little or no empathy.
The A’s completed a three-game sweep with a 6-3 win Sunday that extended the Rangers’ road losing streak to 14 games. A bad Rangers’ team might have been only part of Oakland’s motivation, the other part may have been a wild card race that’s heating up fast with the Red Sox flailing and the Blue Jays emerging. Whatever the reason the A’s are playing better–winners of seven of nine–manager Bob Melvin’s not divulging. He knows the final 50 games of a postseason push won’t be defined by any one stretch or a bad opponent.
“There’s a lot of baseball left,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “The main thing you need to do is just focus on yourself. We’re playing better baseball right now.”
The A’s moved to 16 games above .500 for the first time since June 19, and they assumed the lead AL Wild Card position by percentage points over the Red Sox. The Yankees and Blue Jays are within three games of the leaders, and a race that wasn’t a few weeks back during the trade deadline, is now.
Starling Marte stepped into the playoff push right before the trade deadline and immediately made himself comfortable, hitting .425 in his first nine games with Oakland, including four hits on Sunday. Seth Brown, Sean Murphy and Jed Lowrie also drove in runs in a game the A’s took control of early with three runs in the first and a 5-1 lead in the fourth. Marte’s arrival and performance seem almost miracle-like given he’s basically replacing the dynamic Ramon Laureano, who was shelved by an 80-game suspension for use of performance enhancing drugs.
James Kaprelian returned from the injury list, and didn’t miss a beat, pitching six innings and allowing two earned runs to gain his sixth victory of the season. Meanwhile, Jordan Lyles, who was undefeated in his previous appearances at the Coliseum, fell to 0-4 since the All-Star break, allowing all six A’s runs and walking four batters in the process. At one point, Kaprelian retired 11 straight batters before walking Brock Holt in the fifth.
He gives us six innings, only three hits, gets swings and misses, real efficient,” Melvin said of Kaprelian. “After having a little bit of time off, he didn’t miss a beat. He pitched in the fashion that he basically has been all year.”
“I was pretty tough on myself,” Kaprelian said. “It’s the in-game stuff. The not getting ahead with the fastball, the not throwing enough strikes. The four straight balls to walk (Brock) Holt. Obviously the bats were going today and things were on our side. But, maybe in another situation if I do that, I might not be in the game anymore. So I need to clean that up and I was disappointed in myself for that.”
The A’s outscored Texas 22-7 in the three-game sweep, and they trailed for only two innings all weekend. The Rangers had a lot to do with the lopsided nature of the games, but they simply haven’t ever been in this poor of shape. They’ve lost six, consecutive games, and their road losing streak is only two away from the franchise record. If things continue to be this bad on the road, they could win as few as 22 road games this season, which is almost unheard of.
“We’ve been playing our best, but just trying too hard,” Isiah Kiner-Falefa said. “I think everybody realizes what’s at stake, and instead of seizing the opportunity, it’s almost like (we’re) scared to mess up because you know what could happen if you don’t start producing.”
The A’s have six games remaining with Texas, and Seattle and the Yankees will see the Rangers as well in the final month plus of the season. How unkind the contenders are to the struggling Rangers could be a key factor in the race for the postseason.
The A’s travel to Cleveland, where they open a series on Tuesday with Sean Manaea facing Triston McKenzie in the opener.