And as they come down the stretch, the A's have turned into the Incredible Green Hulks again.
It's deja vu all over again from 2012, only this year they are in position to pull away at the end instead of catching up like a charging Silky Sullivan.
And for this 69-year-old semi-retired sports writer, here are some thoughts following Thursday's 8-2 win following an 18-3 clubbing of the Twins on Wednesday night in Minnesota, good a 3½-game lead over the Texas Rangers going into Arlington on Friday night for the final three games of the regular season between the two clubs.
The A’s were a good all-round team before the All-Star break, going 56-39, 17 games over .500, led by a very good pitching staff that was young except for their best starter, the 40-year-old Bartolo Colon. But at the plate, they were a team that waged a war of attrition.
Despite having a low batting average and pedestrian numbers in many offensive categories, they were second only to the Boston Red Sox in running up the opposing team’s pitch counts, seeing almost 153 pitches a game on average, while foes on average saw about 143 pitches a game.
Now the A’s approach has changed dramatically.
As pitching staffs all over baseball are showing the wear and tear from the long season, A’s hitters are seeing more pitches to hit, and they have been hitting them.
I should have gone the bed a lot sooner last night, but I stayed up, going over the numbers, and they portend for another strong run down the stretch for the A’s.
Post All-Star break, the A’s have seen only the eighth most pitches per game, down to under 147 pitches a game. But in the 15-team AL they have been among the top three in most of the key offensive categories, and Wednesday night’s 18-3 clubbing of the Twins just provided the exclamation point. That game included the team’s season-high 22 hits as well as the season-high 18 runs. Plus, the A’s also enjoyed their first 10-run inning since about 2000.
Since the All-Star break the A’s are first in home runs (63), first in triples (13) and second in doubles (101) and naturally extra-base hits (177) in the AL. They are third in runs (244) and RBIs (235), first in slugging percentage (.448), third in OPS (on-base plus slugging) percentage (.779). The list goes on, third in total bases (774).
But while the A’s led the AL before the All-Star break in drawing an average of 3.71 walks a game, they are only eighth after the break, satisfied with accepting less than 3.2 walks a game.
The lineup they have generally been putting out on the field in going 13-4 over the past 17 games demonstrates how potent they have become. Since Josh Reddick injured his wrist again in Baltimore and went on the DL, it may have been a blessing in disguise for the offense. Until Reddick, the 2012 Gold Glove winner in right field, returned to the starting lineup today, the lineup Oakland had been fielding against right-handed starters (which is about three quarters of the time) features nine hitters that all have an OPS since the All-Star break of over .725, three over .800 and one (Brandon Moss) over .950.
And nary a one of them an All-Star, although Josh Donaldson should have been. The third baseman ranks No. 5 in the AL among all position players i with his WAR rating (Wins Above Replacement).
No wonder, Max Scherzer, the Tigers’ ace who was then 19-1, said of the A’s hitters, "they’re just relentless," after they knocked him out of the game trailing 6-1 in Detroit. Only the Tigers’ rally to salvage that fourth game of the series and prevent an Oakland sweep kept Scherzer from absorbing his second loss of the season.
The A’s lineup against most righties with their post-All-Star OPSes (on-base plus slugging percentages): Coco Crisp CF .774; Donaldson 3B .812, Jed Lowrie SS .775, Moss RF .969, Yeonis Cespedes (suddenly hot in September) LF .781, Alberto Callapso DH .726, Daric Barton 1B .819, Stephen Vogt C .790, Eric Sogard 2B .728.
They’re going against a two lefty starters in Texas this weekend, so look for rookie Nate Freiman (.836 OPS post All-Star) to be at first base for Barton, Chris Young (.751 OPS in the second half) to be in the outfield somewhere and either Derek Norris (.944) or the recently reacquired Kurt Suzuki (.792 OPS in 9 games so far with the A’s) to be behind the plate those days.
Indeed, the A’s platoon at catcher wouldn’t catch the average fan’s attention individual, but if an individual catcher were to post the numbers they have collectively since the All-Star break, that fan might say, "Wow, that guy’s an All-Star in the making." In 203 plate appearances since the All-Star break, the A’s catchers have put up a .301 batting average, a .360 on-base and a .503 slugging for an .863 OPS with 8 homers, 11 doubles, 26 runs and 23 RBIs.
Plus, Young and Reddick, two underproducers at the plate most of the season, appear to be coming around as well. Young with two hits Thursday finally got his batting average for the season above the Mendoza Line at .201.
Collectively, the A's may still be under the radar but not for long.