Oakland Athletics' Chris Carter (22) and Brandon Moss are congratulated by Johnny Gomes (31) and manager Bob Melvin, right, in the dugout after the two scored on Josh Donaldson's single in the first inning of their game against the Texas Rangers on Wednesday in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo)
By MARK HEDIN
Of the Register-Pajaronian
OAKLAND — Even though the Oakland A’s have had the best record in baseball since June 2, when their nine-game losing streak ended, with a week left to go before the playoffs begin Oct. 5 their place in the postseason is by no means assured.
And although there’ve been many memorable moments in the season so far, if they ultimately fall short, those memories will be short-lived and less than satisfying.
But enjoy their stretch drive while you can. Today, they conclude a brutal 10-game road trip that’s taken them through Detroit and the Bronx, to Arlington, Texas, home of the two-time defending American League champ Rangers. They lost two of three to the Tigers and Yanks, both teams whose postseason ambitions were very much alive but not assured.
And Texas, when that trip began, was the only team in the league with a better record than Oakland’s. After a weekend series hosting the Seattle Mariners, Texas comes to town for the final three games of the year.
One of the highlights of the A’s season was the four-game sweep of the Yankees in Oakland in late July. When the two teams next faced off, this past weekend in New York, things went a little differently, with the A’s, after tying the opening game on a ninth-inning home run by Brandon Moss, losing it on Russell Martin’s walk off-home run in the 10th.
The following day, in an excruciating five-hour marathon, the A’s hit three home runs in the top of the 14th inning, yet lost 10-9, before salvaging the getaway game, 5-4.
But consider this: When the Yankees staggered out of town on July 22, they headed to Seattle. When they left Seattle, they took with them future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, who, removed from the doldrums of recent Seattle seasons, has seemed reborn in Yankee Stadium.
The A’s, on the other hand, have lost three of their starting pitchers, and veteran sparkplug Brandon Inge, and during their week of struggles in Detroit and New York were also without the services of centerfielder Coco Crisp, who’s been lost for more than a week to conjunctivitis. Yet they fought the Yankees tooth-and-nail, their rookie-laden roster hanging tough in the pressure cooker of September baseball in New York, and, although they only won one of the three games, it took all the Yankees could throw at them, plus some questionable calls by the umps, for the Yankees to outscore them by a single run over the three-game stretch.
Added to the A’s recent struggles, right fielder Josh Reddick, whose Spider-man heroics and rocket arm sparked the team defensively, and who still leads the team in home runs and RBI, has been in a horrific slump, going 0-for-29 into Wednesday’s game and hitting well below the Mendoza line (.220) in his last hundred at-bats. He’d been hitting the ball well enough most of the time — but into bad luck. Perhaps base hits in his final two at-bats Wednesday bode well for the season’s final week.
Their first-base platoon has been one of the team’s secrets of success, as between them, Brandon Moss and Chris Carter have hit 35 home runs. But cracks emerged there, too, as it was Moss’ inability to handle a spinning ground ball that drove the final nail in the coffin in Saturday’s loss to the Yankees, and Carter, too, has had some costly defensive lapses on the road recently.
But this team of rookies and retreads is nowhere near done-for. In fact, they almost seem destined for success, given the way things have continued to turn their way.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson comes back from the minors and finds out he’s a home-run hitter. Catcher George Kottaras, whose acquisition from Milwaukee a week before the trade deadline caused little excitement, has provided some power nonetheless, with several timely home runs, including one in the 10th inning Tuesday night that decided the second game of the Rangers series.
Shortstop Stephen Drew, picked up in a waiver deal from Arizona in early August, also has contributed in the field, and, more recently, with some timely hits and power. Former shortstop Cliff Pennington, surprisingly relocated to second at the expense of dreadlocked Jemile Weeks, has provided such a boost from the bottom of the order that he found himself leading off in Crisp’s place one night in Arlington this week. If he’d played so well earlier in the year, we’d never have had Drew’s work to enjoy.
The loss of Bartolo Colon was briefly offset with Brett Anderson’s stellar return to play after more than a season lost to injury. But Anderson went down to a sudden injury, a muscle strain, in Detroit, and will be lost at least for a couple of weeks. And the less said about Brandon McCarthy’s fate, perhaps the better – he’s out for the rest of the year after a frightful incident, when he was concussed by a line drive on Aug. 8.
That leaves the starting rotation in the hands of rookies – Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily. So far, they’ve been largely up to the challenge.
Fans would love to see the A’s overtake Texas and win the division. Doing so would mean they would begin the postseason playing the eventual wild-card winner in a best-of-five series. But if the best the A’s can do is win one of the wild-card berths, they’ll have a sudden-death showdown against the other wild card winner on Oct. 5.
It’ll be a fight to the finish, but the A’s have consistently shown themselves down for the damage. One thing they’ve got going for them is that while they’re playing the Mariners this weekend, Texas and the A’s closest pursuer in the wild-card chase, the Angels, will be doing battle in Anaheim. So the A’s win either way.
“Moneyball” has nothing on these guys.
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