'Another run' may already be underway for A's
After taking first three games in Detroit, Oakland has its eyes on first place in West
DETROIT -- Bob Melvin, manager of the Oakland Athletics, is firmly convinced that his club will have another stretch of very good baseball.
That stretch may have already begun.
The A's have been essentially a .500 club since the All-Star break. When they arrived in Detroit for a four-game series, the Tigers had the best record in the American League, not to mention the top team ERA in the league.
But the A's, with effective pitching and a relentless offense, have won the first three games of the series. Wednesday night, behind a 21-hit attack, Oakland thumped the Tigers, 14-4. This gave the A's 28 runs over three games at Comerica Park, doubly remarkable given the quality of the opposing pitching.
"I don't know how we're doing it against the starters we've been facing here the last three days, but we'll take it," Melvin said. "When we come in here we don't expect to do that. We expect to win -- any team does on any particular day. But we don't take it much farther than that. I don't think that coming in here, we're going to be saying, 'All right, we're going to score a ton of runs in the first three games.' I don't have an explanation for it other than really good at-bats."
In recent weeks, things had not gone so splendidly for the A's. They were 63-43 on July 29, in first place in the AL West. It is not as though they have fallen out of contention. They are now 2 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the division and hold a Wild Card spot.
But their play had not been up to the level of their performance earlier in the season. Then again, they had two catchers, their No. 1 starter and their right fielder injured.
"Offensively, we'd been spotty," Melvin said. "We'd go in spurts offensively. The pitching is what has been most consistent over the course of the season, and right now we're probably not as good as we've been most of the season pitching-wise.
"Certainly, Bartolo Colon [getting hurt] had an effect, being for the most part our ace. And then we haven't been as good recently in the bullpen."
Even before his club battered the Tigers on Wednesday night, Melvin had confidence that this group was going to get back to a higher level.
"For me, this is a team that can go on some runs," the manager said. "And I still feel like if we can get a few games in a row where we can get our confidence back as a group, we've got a chance to go on another run."
More reasons for optimism are appearing on an almost daily basis. Colon, returning from a groin strain, will start against the Tigers on Thursday in the series finale.
"He pitched in the All-Star Game, he's got 14 wins, he was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball in the first half of the season," Melvin said. "It stung us a little bit when we did lose him to the DL, and we're excited about getting him back. Any time you have that kind of quality coming back, it feels like you've made an acquisition."
Wednesday night, Brett Anderson, Oakland's Opening Day starter this season, returned to the mound after being out since April with a stress fracture in his right foot.
The A's are using Anderson in a relief role for the moment. He worked three innings Wednesday night, giving up three runs, but earning the save. However Anderson is used, he's one more talented pitcher available for the A's down the stretch.
For all-purpose confidence, many of these A's were part of the equation last season when they came from five games back with nine games left to win the division.
"We went on that road trip that was supposed to knock us out last year -- Detroit, New York, Texas -- and we had some very dramatic games that we lost, very dramatic games that we won," Melvin said. "And then we got home for six days at the end and we ran the table. You have to remain confident that we can get on the kind of run that we've seen this team make several times over the last two years.
"The experience of having that success should remain with us. I don't feel because we haven't played well here for a stretch that we should get down because of that."
The A's are in position to win a Wild Card spot, but this is not a topic that Melvin wishes to explore in depth.
"I hate looking at the Wild Card," he said. "If you start looking at the Wild Card it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. All of a sudden we're playing for the Wild Card. We don't look at that. We're looking at our division, because we have a real chance of winning our division."
And then there is the schedule. The Athletics are currently in a stretch in which they play 13 games in a row against teams contending for postseason berths. But of their last 23 games, only three are against a team that currently has a winning record. That team is the Rangers, and that could be another useful series for Oakland.
This is a team that, despite recent shortcomings, remains capable of putting together a compelling run. The last three games in Detroit won't win a division, but they could give the A's a renewed sense of their own possibilities.