OAKLAND -- With how the schedule sets up over the final two weeks -- 13 straight games against the playoff-contending Astros and Mariners to end the regular season -- the A’s might be in position to control their destiny in their quest for a postseason berth.
However, that final stretch will only come with major playoff implications if they can take care of business against teams they’re supposed to beat, which can be easier said than done at times.
Beginning a stretch of nine games against clubs with losing records on Friday night, the A’s avoided a letdown by handling the Rangers in a 10-5 victory at the Coliseum. The win was their third straight and inched them closer to the second American League Wild Card spot, now one game back of the Yankees.
Tony Kemp, who scored twice in a 3-for-5 effort, said he noticed a different vibe when the A’s took the field earlier in the afternoon for batting practice. He sensed a big day from the bats. Sure enough, the A’s matched a season high with 16 hits, with multi-hit performances by five hitters.
“I think everybody had a great BP today,” Kemp said. “We lost a lot of baseballs today, so everybody was feeling good. We just have to keep that going.
“Obviously, we need help from other teams. But the cool thing about this team is that there’s no panic. It’s just like the beginning of the year when we were losing and then rattled off 13 wins. We’re just taking care of the little things right now.”
The early innings are usually a key spot for an offense to get to a young pitcher, and that’s precisely what the A’s did against Texas rookie Glenn Otto. A six-run second inning that saw the scoring begin with Elvis Andrus getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded was highlighted by Matt Olson’s bases-clearing three-run single.
In a season that has brought immense frustration in bases-loaded spots -- the A’s entered the day with the second-lowest OPS (.555) in such situations -- Friday’s second inning saw them execute in those opportunities. In addition to Olson, Sean Murphy and Starling Marte also drove in runs with a pair of bases-loaded singles in the second.
“That’s something that, at times, has been missing for us,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “A six-spot early in the game like that is huge. You feel like you’re in charge of the game at that point.”
The A’s didn’t quite take full control of the game in the immediate aftermath of that big inning.
Paul Blackburn was lifted from his start with just two outs in the third after allowing four runs, three of those coming in third. Departing with the A’s lead cut to 6-4, it took a collective effort from the bullpen to finish it off as five relievers covered 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball.
The largest contribution came from Deolis Guerra, who entered in relief of Blackburn and prevented further damage. The right-hander turned in 2 1/3 scoreless frames without allowing a hit.
While Guerra calmed the Rangers' offense, the A’s reestablished a comfortable lead with a pair of two-run innings in the fourth and fifth.
“He stabilized the game for us,” Melvin said of Guerra. “Gave us two-plus and did it pretty economically, too. When you’re looking for guys that really impacted the game today, I don’t know any more than him.”
With only 21 games left in the regular season, September can be a time where things gets tense. Scoreboard-watching comes into play, and this AL Wild Card race is looking particularly complicated. As of Friday night, five teams competing for the two Wild Card spots were separated by just two games.
The best formula to combat those nerves down the stretch is probably to just embrace the chaos of it all. At least, that’s how these A’s are approaching it, Kemp included.
“It’s fun,” Kemp said. “You can’t even describe it. You come to the field and wonder what’s going to happen next. I get to play baseball and come out here in a playoff race. What else would you rather be doing? We’re having a good time and we’re loose.”