If the reality check is coming, it’s going to be against a less-likely team.
But it’s looking more and more like what we are seeing is reality for this Oakland team.
After a sweep of the Yankees the A’s are real contenders to make the playoffs.
Against the Rangers and Yankees…
Heading into the week, the A’s had momentum after a sweep of the Twins, and the playoffs started to look like a possibility. But fans were probably content with a 3-3 record against the Rangers and Yankees.
Instead, the A’s went 5-1 and are now 9-1 after the All-Star Break, and 13-2 in the month of July.
But it’s not just the record that makes Oakland look like a playoff team. The A’s didn’t cream the Rangers or the Yankees in typical streaky, young team style. They beat the Yankees and the Rangers with resiliency and poise, and that’s what a playoff-type team does.
Despite a 6-1 loss at the hands of the first-place Texas Rangers to begin the tough week, the A’s came back from a 3-1 deficit to split the series on a Josh Reddick game-tying double and a Brandon Hicks walk-off home run. That’s the type of resiliency that makes a playoff contender.
Each of the four wins against New York were decided by one run.
Game 1 – A’s win 4-3
Yoenis Cespedes shot a two-run homer in his first at-bat, and Seth Smith drove in two in the third to give the A’s a 4-0 lead. A.J. Griffin looked strong against the Evil Empire surrendering only two in the sixth. Former Athletic Nick Swisher made things interesting in the ninth launching a solo shot against closer Ryan Cook, but Cook stayed composed and finished the game for the save and 4-3 victory.
Game 2 – A’s win 3-2
Tommy Milone looked excellent over his seven innings of work allowing no runs and only six hits with 10 strikeouts. Still, the Yankees threatened late in this one as well scoring one in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie the game at two. But Brandon Moss drove in Yoenis Cespedes in the ninth for the A’s tenth walk-off win of the season. That’s the most in the majors, and another quality of a playoff-type team.
Game 3 – A’s win 2-1
Jarrod Parker was the third Oakland rookie starter to give the Yankees fits in the series. Allowing one run over eight innings of work, Parker struck out five and only allowed five hits. New York drew first blood in the game for the first time of the series in the fourth inning when Alex Rodriguez scored on a Raul Ibanez hit, and Yoenis Cespedes didn’t like that. He launched his thirteenth homer of the season in the next half inning, and Brandon Inge cracked his ninth of the season to lead the A’s to a 2-1 victory in the game, and a series victory over the team with the best record in baseball.
Game 4 – A’s win 5-4 in 12
Bartolo Colon was the first non-rookie to start on the mound for the A’s in the series, and he had a tough time with the Yankees. In the third, Mark Teixeria singled with the bases loaded for the first run, and Alex Rodriguez doubled two in to make it 3-0. In the fourth, Curtis Granderson shot an 0-2 pitch over the fence to make it 4-0.
But the resiliency showed again when Brandon Inge connected for a homer in the fifth to cut the lead to 4-1. Then Kurt Suzuki went deep for his first homer of the season to cut it to 4-2. In the next inning, the A’s got a little lucky when the Yankees couldn’t tun a double play so the A’s squeaked a run across to make it 4-3. But then the Yankees’ gold glove corner infielders showed their skill keeping Coco Crisp from scoring on a Chris Carter grounder to Eric Chavez at third. Had Carter been just a step faster, it would have been a tie game after that.
Still, the A’s bullpen showed why they have the best ERA in the league by not allowing the Yankees to score, and the offense eventually supported its pitching staff. Seth Smith took New York closer Rafael Soriano deep to center to tie the game at four in the bottom of the ninth.
To extras the game went, and the bullpen held solid (the pen went 5.1 innings and allowed only three hits and no runs. Finally, in the bottom of the twelfth, Derek Norris got his first hit in it feels like forever, and then Coco Crisp singled to give the A’s their eleventh walk-off victory of the season, which is the most in the majors.
That many close games demonstrates focus and poise, qualities that are often lacking in exceptionally young squads. That’s the whole adage that veterans are better in crunch time. Maybe that will be true in September, but right now the A’s aren’t missing a step in tight ballgames, despite late-inning threats from the best team in baseball. Some of that is the players, but a lot of that is thanks to Bob Melvin and his staff, particularly pitching coach Curt Young, who has managed to get his staff through numerous injuries with a bevy of young arms. If the nation hasn’t noticed these spectacular young arms yet, they should now.
Right now, it’s a reality that the A’s are in the playoff hunt. They showed they can play with the best teams in baseball, and can do so in tight ballgames with resiliency.
Where Oakland stands…
They’re right in it.
The above standings are before the Angels-Rangers game Sunday night, but nonetheless the A’s are in a good position to make the playoffs with the two Wild Card spots this year. Although catching the Rangers may be tough (but then again their offense has really struggled in the month of July, scoring the least amount of runs in baseball), the Wild Card is definitely within Oakland’s reach.
Tampa Bay, Boston, Toronto and Baltimore play in maybe the toughest division and baseball, and they will beat up on each other. The White Sox have been slumping lately, so that leaves the Angels, who are certainly within striking distance.
Oakland controls its own destiny at this point. They face the Angels 10 more times this year (the next of which will be August 6-8 in Oakland) and are 5-4 against Los Angeles so far this season. If Oakland puts together a winning record against the Angels, and maintains solid play play against the rest of the competition, the A’s have a real shot at one of the Wild Card spots. Then, who knows what can happen because, after all, this is a very, very young team.
But hey, even if the A’s can’t hold this type of play, there’s always the opportunity for another movie about the squad, right? That’s something to look forward to.
On second thought, probably not. The movie would be better if Billy Beane could “win the last game of the year.”