A's riding trademark pitching in recent hot streak
Other AL West clubs garner more headlines, but Oakland remains consistent
MILWAUKEE -- It is time once again to look upon the success of the Oakland Athletics with anything other than surprise.
The A's have won 15 of their last 17, which seems a little more than even the term "hot streak" can bear. But if you look at it from the standpoint of getting exceptional pitching, this can hardly be a shock.
When this same club won 94 games and the American League West in 2012, there was some serious surprise, given the fact that the Rangers had won the AL pennant two years in a row and the Angels had spent a bundle of money in pursuit of the same goal. But the A's did it the old-fashioned way: They pitched better than the competition.
The Athletics were second in the AL in team earned run average last year. Over the last 17 games, very good pitching has once again been the trademark of the Oakland club. The team ERA for that period is 2.42.
You cannot ask any pitching staff in the contemporary game to sustain that kind of ERA over the course of an entire season. Still, when this notion was presented to A's manager Bob Melvin Monday, he helpfully interjected: "You can ask, if you want."
Early in the season, the A's had a stretch in which they scored 65 runs in eight games. That wasn't them, at least over the long haul. But this recent pitching is closer to this club's truth.
"It gives us a lot of confidence," Melvin said, "because early in the season we were scoring a lot of runs, winning a lot of games easily, by a lot of runs. And then all of a sudden we weren't swinging the bats as well and it's more difficult to win that way.
"We have the confidence that we gained from our starters, and our relievers, our whole pitching staff, last year. This is kind of how we play. You've seen it recently, when our starters go out and do their thing, we feel really good about winning baseball games. We have a good bullpen on top of it.
"Games like Sunday [a 2-0 victory over the White Sox], if you're going to beat a guy like [Chris] Sale, our starter has to pitch really well, like Jarrod Parker did.
"That's how we have to play to win. We gain a lot of confidence from that starter that we throw out on the mound that particular day. We have a lot of confidence in all five of these guys."
It was Tommy Milone's turn Monday night in Milwaukee, as the Athletics made their first visit to Miller Park. Milone worked a crisp seven innings, giving up two runs on five hits with no walks, needing only 85 pitches. Plus, Milone added two solid singles, drove in a run, and generally conducted himself like an actual hitter in this DH-free setting.
Milone didn't lack help from the Oakland offense, which had a season high 19 hits in a 10-2 victory. Milone's at-bats were impressive, but more to the point of his primary vocation, the lefty did a remarkable job against a lineup with eight right-handed batters in a hitter-friendly park.
"First time through the lineup, used a lot of changeups," Milone said. "Got them to ground out. And really throughout the whole game, tried to work the fastball in and out, up and down, and then use that changeup in tougher situations, maybe behind in the count when they're not expecting it."
One particularly useful baseball adage is that momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher. When the whole rotation is pitching well, that momentum turns out to be a pleasant reality. Do the pitchers feed off each other's performances during a run like the one the A's staff is enjoying?
"Definitely," Milone said. "You know, each game we're going out there and we're trying to build off the last performance the night before.
"And it definitely helps when we're going deep into games, saving the bullpen. It does help, too, when we score runs. You have to give it to the offense when they're scoring runs, it makes it easier to go out there and throw strikes."
There is a chance that the 2.42 ERA level won't last forever. But what should last is a solid Oakland pitching staff, putting up some of the best numbers and performances in the game, over time.
That, combined with an offense that can find a way to score enough runs, would make this team once again a postseason qualifier. If that happens, it should not be considered a surprising development. It should be considered a logical development.