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How The (2013 American League) West Was Won AN Style - In July

The A's opened July at home against the Chicago Cubs, as the NL Central visits continued. They would win 2 out of 3 games, while Texas was taking on division-rival Seattle. The A's took the first game of the series, and it was a good one. Lev Facher explains: This team gets more and more fun to watch every single day. Derek Norris won the game with a three-run homer and the A's had an all-around great night from the batter's box to compensate for one of A.J. Griffin's worst starts of the season. Oakland is now 49-35, and is alone in the AL West driver's lead, 0.5 games ahead of Texas. The A's would drop the second game of the series, falling just short of being the fourth team to the 50 wins plateau (to join the Pirates, Red Sox, and Cardinals), as baseballgirl has the call: Move along folks, there's really nothing to see here. You hate to see a pitching outing like this one wasted; close enough to still wonder "what if". What if Reddick catches the homerun as he nearly did? What if we just could have scored the elusive second run to tie the game? And then you remember that the Cubs had 12 hits to the A's 4, and you wonder how they scored three total runs.The A's would rebound in the final game to take the series, remaining a half-game up on Texas for first place. Alan Torres tells us all about the 1-0 win, and introduces Dan Straily : Dan Straily came back from AAA to make this start in place of Jarrod Parker, and picked up right where he left off and them some. Yoenis Cespedes, despite striking out twice in 4 PAs, made a pivotal outfield assist to keep the game scoreless and the Cubs off the board in the 4th. Despite not being able to figure Travis Wood, the A’s made quick work of Matt Guerrier in the 7th, turning a one-out single and a caught steal at 2B into one run on a passed ball by Wellington Castillo. The bullpen was able to hold on despite a specious call with two outs in the 9th and Alfonso Soriano on deck.

The A's hopped on a plane and flew to Kansas City to take on the Royals. Part of the fun of this recap is seeing what teams were good at the halfway mark, and matching that up against the eventual division winners. I think the AL West was a tremendously fun race, probably a little bit biased, but it did fluctuate so wildly until the very last week. The A's would win another 2 out of 3 in Kansas City, including the opener, where Balfour tied the record, and Milone had the game of his season. baseballgirl with the recap: Tommy Milone was picture-perfect for eight innings tonight, even better than Dan Straily in yesterday's contest. Josh Reddick created all of the offensive performance himself, and Grant Balfour bailed out Milone after he found a heap of trouble in the ninth inning, and the A's slam the door on the Royals to take the series opener 6-3. They would lose the second game in a sloppy performance. I handled that thread, as well: It's hard to really assign blame in this game, as just about every facet of the A's game fell apart at one time or another in the loss today. This was a winnable game if the A's just play their usual solid brand of baseball, but from their three errors in the field, to errors all over the basepaths, to the unusually wild pitching staff, this game was doomed to be a loss from about the fourth inning on; it just took eight innings for the A's to actually lose. They would bounce back again in the season finale (and the day we found out about the All Star slights), as Nico will tell us: On the mound, A.J. Griffin did not have his best game going, needing 105 pitches -- 2 of them hit out of the ballpark -- to get through 5 IP. However, Jesse Chavez earned his first major league save with 4 shutout innings in relief of Jerry Blevins, and even though the A's don't have a single position player worthy of the All-Star team, somehow they put up 10 runs in support of Griffin. This was the stretch when Texas won every game that Oakland did, so no ground was gained or loss. The A's kept their .5 game lead.

The A's flew to Pittsburgh for Game #90 this year, debuted Grant Green, and it's the first time where I genuinely thought that the playoffs would happen. This game was a playoff game from start to finish: Miracles were certainly Grant-ed today as Grant Green made his Major League debut and Grant Balfour saved his 23rd game this season, and 41st game of the streak, beating Dennis Eckersley's record and cementing our current group of A's into the records books with their historic predecessors. A sensational catch by Coco Crisp in the seventh inning won the game; without the catch, the save never takes place. And of course, to top it all off, was the brilliant 7 innings Colon turned out for his 12th win of the year. The A's repeated the 2-1 game the next night, as Nico explains: Brandon Moss' first go-around in Pittsburgh was not a joyous one, as his career stalled for the second time and by the time he left town he was ready to be sold for parts. Tonight he launched a 2-run HR in the 4th inning off of Gerrit Cole to provide all the runs the A's would need -- which is good, because it was also all the runs the A's would get. We also learned that Yoenis Cespedes would be invited to the All-Star Weekend, to participate in the Home Run Derby.  Lev Facher took the series finale, and tipped his cap to the Pirates: Francisco Liriano was on tonight. It's that simple. After waiting through a rain delay of nearly three hours, the A's offense couldn't get anything going at all against the Pirates' southpaw. Meanwhile, Tommy Milone struggled, and the Bucs came away with a 5-0 win. It's no surprise that Texas kept pace with the A's, and after the three-game series, the A's still held a .5 game lead as they welcomed in Boston; the last series before the All Star Break.

The A's dropped the first game of the battle of what would end up being the first and second place AL teams in 2013. The Red Sox were already in the top spot, but the A's climbed that ladder all summer; ending up just a rung behind the Red Sox. As we found out, it was also the first time since 2008 that the A's have had a winning record at the ASB. baseballgirl with the opener: To be fair, I did warn them. I said in the game preview that A's had to be all but perfect to beat John Lackey and the league-leading Red Sox in tonight's game, and despite some flashes of brilliance, mistakes ultimately sank the team tonight. It's beyond frustrating, in a game where Jarrod Parker clearly gave his all, and the A's struggling offense, who had gone almost 20 innings without scoring a run, had used all of their grit to tie the game while only managing three hits, the A's couldn't get out of their own damn way. Obviously this isn't the end of the world; it's the first time the A's will end up with a winning record at the All Star Break since 2008, they are second place in the entire American League, and they didn't even lose ground to the Rangers, who were handily spanked by the Tigers, or the Angels (same; Mariners), but it's irritating to lose to an obnoxious pitcher and even more to an obnoxious team, and even more irritating when it's entirely the A's own fault. Well, they probably could have left Dustin Pedroia in a flooded shower in the Coliseum and that might have helped, but aside from that, it's an all-A's blame tonight. But don't despair; the A's would rebound to tie the series the following night, in what was early-playoff atmosphere; a far cry from years past in July. baseballgirl with second call: Well, that's more like it! The A's beat the Red Sox in a thrilling game tonight to tie the series behind A.J. Griffin. They won't be the biggest story tonight in the Bay Area, but who cares? This is playoff-caliber baseball over in Oakland! Griffin was sensational in his eight innings, and Grant Balfour just keeps saving games. The A's scored single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, and while their offense is still relatively quiet, they are winning games.The A's would win the rubber game, and the series in the last game before the break on the strength of left-out All-Star Josh Donaldson, Nico tells us: Was there a better script for the day before the All-Star break than for Josh Donaldson to shine, and then shine again? The A's didn't have a hit through 6 innings, but what they had after 11 innings was a win and a 2 game lead over Texas. With the win, the A's increased their lead over Texas to two full games, and unlike years past, we all actually cared about this break.

Just for funsies, you should really go back and re-watch the Home Run Derby, starring Yoenis Cespedes. I remember being nervous that he wouldn't be able to replicate what he did in batting practice every day on the big stage, but as it turned out, I had nothing to worry about.. He was a highlight for the A's in a season full of them. The A's were also involved in the All Star Game itself, as Lev Facher explains: Grant Balfour pitched a scoreless sixth inning, and Mariano Rivera won the All-Star Game MVP trophy. Whatever American League team ends up in the World Series will have home field advantage. Let's hope that home-field advantage matters for the A's in about three weeks.

Back to your regularly scheduled program. The A's, who traveled to Anaheim after the break to face the Angels, took a while to come back from break; they dropped the first two games of the series. The way the Angels played the A's at times this year actually made me really glad they were out of the race from early on; I didn't want to face this team with something to play for. Here's a memorable night, where baseballgirl didn't feel like recapping the game, so AN did it for me:
Berry Jo: We should write it for you.
pam5981: crowdsourced recap...
Billy Frijoles:that's gonna work great
pam5981: Paragraph 1: WE LEARNED THE SARCHASM FONT.
Berry Jo: Paragraph 2: We swore at the umps and the Angel's players
pam5981 Paragraph 3: Baseballgirl got drunk off whipped cream vodka.
Berry Jo: Paragraph 4: AN Game thread was more entertaining than the game itself
mrod: "Colon should have started this game!!!!!!!"

Game 2 wasn't any better, as Nico tells us: The A's have scored 1 run since last Sunday. So...Yeah, that's not good. Don't worry: There's yet more expert analysis to follow. The A's would salvage the finale; in the words of Alex Hall: The stars of the game for Oakland were a small elf and a 40-year-old obese man. This is the coolest team ever. Despite losing 2 out of 3, and thanks to a 4-game slide by the Rangers, the A's would actually gain a game in the series, and lead the West by 3 games.

Enter the Astros. The A's tried hard to give up the first game, as Lev Facher recaps: This can't go on forever. No team plays another perfectly throughout the course of an entire season. But somehow, the A's keep on snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against the lowly Houston Astros. Tonight, it was an eighth-inning, two-run blast to straightaway right field from Josh Reddick that did the trick. And just when it seemed like the would keep the winning streak alive, Balfour had his first hiccup of the season, blew his first save after 44 consecutive, and the A's dropped their first game to the Astros all season. Lev Facher with the call: What can I say? It was the Astros. The A's had won 13 straight games against them, and they'd been pulling wins out of their pockets against them all season long. They had a two-run lead, and Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour primed and ready to go to close out the Astros in the final to innings. Blame me if you like for penning a winning recap before the winning had been done, but superstitions aside, the bottom line is that no MLB team — much less a contender like the A's — can play as sloppily as Oakland did during the past two games and expect to come away with two wins. As a matter of fact, the A's were probably lucky to come away with just one. The A's would rebound for the next game, and still win the series, as Alex Hall narrates this one: Coco Crisp, John Jaso, and Eric Sogard did the heavy lifting, which is exactly what nobody expected would happen. Winning 2 out of 3 from Houston kept the A's lead at 3 games over the Rangers, just in time for the Angels to come into Oakland for a four-game series.

The A's dropped the first game, as Alan Torres laments: On days like today, sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders. That’s the best reaction any one can have after a game like this. Dan Straily allowed too many hits, the defense again left much to be desired, and the bats could just not get going against Angels starter C.J. Wilson. They will attempt to regroup tomorrow with Bartolo Colon on the mound, but then something interesting happens. The A's decided to play some baseball, and took the next three games. baseballgirlWhat more do we really need to say? Despite the nailbiting, the sloppy, the crazy and the stressful, the bottom line is that the A's won, the Angels lost, and more importantly, so did the Rangers. Somehow, even while this team is not playing their best baseball, the lineup is struggling at the plate, and the defense is racking up errors, the A's have climbed to a four-game lead in the AL West with win #60 tonight and their first double-digit hit game since July 7th. Nico for turn-back-the-clock day: The Oakland A's keep partying like it's 1969, only the team is good! Donning garish Charlie Finley era 1969 jerseys, the A's turned back the clock to more like 1972-74, parlaying excellent starting pitching from Ken Holtzman Tommy Milone, power hitting from catcher Gene Tenace Derek Norris, and an insurance run scored by the fleet footed Rick Monday Billy North Herb Washington Coco Crisp to come back and beat the California Los Angeles Anaheim -- oh you know who we played -- by a final score of 3-1. Nico also had the series finale: I'm so relieved that I had to scrap my original headline, which was "Parker Pitches Like Poo..." He did, but despite being down 5-0 early and despite Parker issuing 7 BBs in 5 IP, the Never Say Die A's came back to grab a season high 6 game lead in the AL West. It's unclear whether the A's could have pulled it off without some help from the Angels outfield, plenty of which they got at just the right times. While the A's won 3 out of 4, Texas lost all four games simultaneously, and the A's were able to run their lead to a gigantic six games; their largest lead yet. Everything was coming up Oakland in the waning days of July as the A's welcomed in the Blue Jays to close out the month.

Billy Frijoles handled the series opener, as the A's won their fourth game in a row: The Oakland A's finally had that laugher they were looking for. Toronto Blue Jays' starter Esmil Rogers, who actually had a respectable 3.74 ERA coming into this game, got walloped. The A's jumped on right in the first inning. Coco Crisp walked to lead off. Eric Sogard, enjoying his first ever entry in the 2 hole (ball SO GARD) reached on an E5 error (at 1st base). And then came Jed Lowrie, hitting in the 3 spot due to Josh Donaldson's recent struggles. All he did was single past Bautista on a tough slider from Rogers, and the A's were rolling. Cespedes continued to be white-hot, striking a sharp groundball triple that spooned the foul line all the way to the outfield wall, driving in two. Nice to see Cespedes flash his speed, power, and hit tool in one AB. Josh Reddick lauched a medium depth sacrifice fly that was enough to score Cespedes to cap off the scoring. 4-0 A's, and we were just going to the second inning. But the A's would drop the second and third games, unfortunate timing as the Rangers' season would start to pick up. Lev Facher with the second game: As good as the A's have been this season, they've seemed very capable of putting up the not-so-infrequent dud, such as last Thursday's 8-3 drubbing courtesy of the Angels. A similar fate befell them tonight, as the Blue Jays dominated Oakland, hitting two home runs and using three pitchers to shut out the A's and claim a 5-0 victory. And Alan Torres with the finale: The Blue Jays had one of the worst fielding days you can have as an MLB team. Their errors and lost balls in the sun led to two A’s runs. Unfortunately, that’s all the A’s would manage today against R.A. Dickey and the Blue Jays bullpen. The A's would finish July with a record of 15-10, with a four-game lead in the AL West, with a showdown against Texas first on the docket for August.