4 weeks ago, with Oakland and Texas neck-and-neck at the time, I took my best shot at guessing how the AL West might play out in the season's final 6 weeks. Yet a month later, far from being on track to lose the division by a game or two the A's are in fact squarely in the driver's seat with a chance to put a strangle-hold on the AL West later today.
Where did I go astray? It turns out I may have gotten the concepts and the positions exactly right...but gotten the players wrong.
My theory about what would ultimately separate the A's and Rangers is that while the two teams were generally similar in having strong rotations, deep bullpens, good lineups, and excellent defense, what would be difference was that the best starting pitcher in either rotation, and the best position player on either team -- who happened to be a 3Bman -- belonged to the same club.
Trouble is, I was referring to Yu Darvish and Adrian Beltre, yet it is Jarrod Parker and Josh Donaldson who have emerged as the "difference makers" I was aiming to identify.
Looking at the two rotations, A's fans will enjoy the fact that since the trade deadline probably the worst starting pitcher in either rotation has been Matt Garza. It turns out that the combination of fastball velocity and misogyny isn't enough. Darvish, on the other hand, has been quite good -- but no one has been as good as Parker, who still hasn't lost a game since May 22nd.
The A's are 7-2 in Parker's last 9 starts, even though Parker has been asked to go toe to toe with the other team's best pitcher (David Price, Jared Cosart, Chris Tillman, Yu Darvish) in several of these games. Parker has gone at least 6 IP in each of his last 8 starts, while in August and September the most ER he has allowed in any start is 3. In fairness, Darvish has also pitched well in August and September overall and he can't be blamed every time the Rangers lose a game he starts -- witness Saturday's 1-0 loss to the A's when he certainly did his part. But the reality is that Texas has now lost each of the last 6 games started by Darvish. Oops.
Meanwhile, when August turned to September the respective 3Bmen reflect the directions these two teams would go. The A's are 10-3 in September, led by Donaldson's .370/.479/.756 asplosion. The Rangers are 2-10 in September, and to say that Beltre has gone "stone cold" would be an insult to stones. Try a slash line of .256/.333/.279. Two teams moving in opposite directions led by two players moving in opposite directions.
So in a sense the division is being separated by the presence of an ace and a go-to position player, but perhaps not the ones I envisioned. Hats off to Parker and Donaldson for stepping up at crunch time -- they may not have "name recognition" but they have led the way where their more ballyhooed opponents couldn't.
On Sunday, Parker will try to put what would likely be the final nail in the Rangers' coffin if he can lead the A's to a series sweep and a 6.5 game division lead. We'll see you at noon for first pitch!