At this point, it's surprising to see A's lose
Recent struggles aren't the norm for baseball's best team since break
DETROIT -- Earlier this season, the Athletics crossed over from "surprising" to "really good" and never turned back. The only "surprising" thing about them now would be if they started to lose.
So the last three games would qualify as surprising, the latest defeat, 6-2, at the hands of the Tigers on Wednesday night. But the overall Oakland record says that this is the aberration, not the success that the A's started enjoying in June.
Best record in the Majors since the All-Star break. Best record in the Majors since the beginning of July. Best record in the Majors since June 2. Despite the three losses, the A's are still in position for an American League Wild Card berth.
How have they done it, when many people considered them to be the definition of a lost cause, when many looked at the Rangers/Angels competition in the AL West, and determined that the A's chances were at home in a place called Nowhere?
They have had the necessary pitching all along. They are second in the AL in team ERA. And their hitting has become better over time. The A's were last in the league in runs scored before the All-Star break, but they are third in runs scored since then.
There is no magic to it, no mystery. It is baseball. At this point, so what if the A's were supposed to be non-factors in any race? Expectations for them were far too low. Their own expectations were not so modest, but, it turns out, were far more accurate.
"I think we've gotten better as the year's gone along," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Certainly, you look at the offensive numbers, from mid-June on we're actually a good offensive team where up until that point we were probably last in every category, whether it was average, runs, RBIs. We've had an influx of guys that have either come from our system, or subtle trades that we've made and they've made our offense better. And then each and every guy here has gotten better over the course of the season.
"I think we have a good team. The pitching's always been there. We've been consistent with the pitching all year and now the offense is that much better."
Melvin saw this coming a little earlier than the rest of humanity, but then he was considerably more positive than most about the A's, even before the season had started.
"I liked what I saw coming out of Spring [Training]," Melvin said. "Now, we've made a lot of roster moves since then to try to get it right and our front office has been terrific in adding subtle pieces, whether from our system or in making trades, that have enhanced us, especially offensively.
"I think once we started swinging the bats and hitting the ball out of the ballpark, maybe middle of June somewhere, based on the kind of direction we were going, anything was possible for us."
It never gets particularly easy at this level, and the degree of difficulty for the A's was further notched upward Wednesday night when starter Brett Anderson departed the game in the third inning with what was described as a right oblique strain.
Anderson had pitched superbly in four of five previous starts since coming back from Tommy John surgery. He underwent an MRI on Wednesday night and a prognosis for his short-term pitching future wasn't readily available.
Between Anderson's injury and the three-game losing streak, perhaps the outlook could be bleak. No, it couldn't.
"You just have to get through it," Melvin said. "See, you're never just going to speed right through and win every game. There are tough spots that you have to work through. We've got some injured guys, and some other guys are going to have to pick it up."
Travis Blackley, an Australian left-hander, will get a start Saturday against the Yankees in New York. But he preferred not to view this as the consummate, great, big September game against The Bronx Bombers in Gotham.
"If you look at it like that you'll psych yourself out," Blackley said.
Solid approach. This whole thing is difficult. The A's are in a crazy stretch in which they play 17 of 20 away from home, including the current phase of the trip, which is at Detroit, at New York and then four games at Texas. What to do with this trek up Mt. Everest in a T-shirt and sandals? Play it one at a time.
"We've had a couple of good road trips, which hopefully lends to some confidence on this road trip which is, if you look at it, a little bit daunting," Melvin said. "But I don't think these guys are looking at it as we go to New York next and then to Texas. We're just trying to put all our efforts into playing and trying to win today's game. We'll continue to try to do that."
The Athletics have been good enough, long enough, this season that they have earned the right to still matter in late September.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.