A's continuing slow trek back to contention
NEW YORK -- Athletics manager Bob Melvin subscribes to the theory that, after all the numbers are analyzed, subjected to the latest algorithms and run through the newest proprietary software, dusted for fingerprints and tested for gunpowder residue, there's one statistic that must be taken at face value.
"At the end of the day, you are what your record is," he said, momentarily leaving the rest of his thought hanging like a batting-practice fastball.
Oakland's record is 39-47. It is what it is. Except that, deep down, Melvin believes his team is a whole lot better and will eventually prove it. "But we have the ability to improve on that," he said, completing his thought.
The Athletics beat the Yankees, 4-3, in 10 innings on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. Brett Lawrie's homer off All-Star Dellin Betances was the difference. The win improved the A's record since May 23 to 25-17, with only the Pirates and Cardinals having done better in that stretch. It was also significant in that it was their first extra-inning win of the season, and their seventh one-run win ... against an almost incomprehensible 21 losses. There's no hard data to prove that will even out somewhere along the way, but the Athletics feel in their bones that it will.
"It's the close games that we've had trouble with, so it was good to get this one under our belt," Melvin said. "But we have to sustain it. One of these isn't going to make us who we were. We have to sustain this and win games like this."
There's still plenty of time. Except there isn't. While there's a half-season yet to be played, the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline arrives in just over three weeks. If they decide to sell, the Athletics have several attractive pieces that could help another team. One is the versatile Ben Zobrist, who has started at four different spots this season. He was surrounded by reporters when he appeared at his locker before the game, inquiring minds wanting to know how he felt being the focus of so many rumors.
It's a question he's heard in other cities recently. "It's nice to be wanted, but it really doesn't make a difference in the way I go about my business and try to help my team win," he said.
But would he prefer the familiarity of the American League?
"I mean, obviously I know the American League pitchers better because I've only been in the American League in my career. But it really comes down to that day you're playing and focusing on the pitcher you're facing," he said.
Left-hander Scott Kazmir, who starts Wednesday night against the Yankees, has a 2.56 ERA, and there are plenty of teams looking for starting pitching. Bullpen arms are also in demand, which could impact Tyler Clippard, who nailed down the save despite putting the tying and winning runs on with walks.
All of that can be a distraction to a team that is trying to claw back from a 14-30 start. Melvin said he doesn't feel that his club is on the clock, having to prove it's a contender so the front office doesn't start looking ahead to 2016.
"I don't at all. We just play with the guys we have here," he said. "We, for the most part, have some turnover, anyway. But when you get to this time of the season. ... We haven't been in this position the last three years. We're always looking to add. But this year because of our record there's speculations because of the players we have here.
"I don't think anybody fixates on it too much. We're still trying to resurrect where we are right now. We're playing a lot better. I don't think anybody gets too distracted by that. I haven't had to say anything to anybody, if that's what you're getting at."
There are reasons to believe. Oakland's run differential is plus-50. The pitching is excellent, both starting and relieving. If the A's can just tighten up the defense, get a key hit here or there, start winning the close games, there's no reason they can't go on one of those second-half tears. They've done it before. There was even a book and a movie about it.
Melvin believes his team still has a chance to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
"You look at our numbers across the board. You look at the way we go about it, our baserunning, our stolen bases and so forth. There are a couple areas we've been deficient in that have something to do with where we are. But we've always felt like we were better than what our record is," he said.
They are what their record says they are. The thing is, their record says they're getting better all the time.