So, stop me if you've heard this one before. The Oakland Athletics are the best team in the American League, and -- what's that? Oh, you have heard that one before? I say it every week? Huh, that just sounds crazy. They must just be getting lucky. Anyway, the A's got a great start to their nine-game road trip last week by taking two of three from each of the Yankees and Orioles. I'll take a 4-2 week every single time, since a .667 winning percentage is a 108-win pace. The A's overall .619 percentage (39-24) is a hair over a 100-win pace, which isn't so bad itself. They still lead in run differential at plus-128, ahead of the runner-up Giants (plus-64) and Blue Jays (plus-43); Oakland went plus-13 last week. The division lead over the Angels stands at 4½ games heading into tonight's series opener in Anaheim.
The recipe was mostly the same as it has been all season. The starters were solid, with a 3.58 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning. Scott Kazmir led the way with a pair of starts in which he allowed just two runs in 13⅓ innings while striking out 17; the A's won both games. Drew Pomeranz also had his best start of the season, with seven innings of one-run ball and seven strikeouts against the Yankees; although he lost, he actually out-pitched Masahiro Tanaka. The bullpen allowed just two runs and one walk in 17⅓ innings and didn't blow a save or lose a game while navigating through two extra-inning affairs. The A's are the only team in baseball who has not yet allowed 200 runs (they're at 199).
The offense knocked 10 dingers, led by Brandon Moss (three), Yoenis Cespedes (two) and Josh Donaldson (two). Coco Crisp went 6-for-12 with a homer in limited playing time as he continues to recover from his strained neck, and Kyle Blanks kept up his hot hitting by going 5-for-11 with five RBI, four walks, and only one strikeout. The A's drew a season-high 11 walks in Sunday's contest. Whether they jumped out in front quickly (like in Sunday's 11-1 rout) or dug a hole and then rallied their way out of it (like in the first two Yankees games and the first Orioles game), they just found ways to win. Sometimes those ways were a barrage of long balls by the middle-of-the-order boppers, as both Moss and Cespedes had multi-homer games. Sometimes they were manufactured, as when they came up with three sac flies while turning a 4-0 deficit into a 7-4 victory on Wednesday in New York. As usual, both of their losses were close, and in one of them they got the tying run to third base in the ninth. The A's lead the Majors in scoring with 327 runs (Toronto is next at 314, in one extra game).
There was a big brouhaha with Manny Machado and the Orioles, but I've written enough words on that so we will stick to the action on the field in this review. Check out the links below this paragraph for more on that altercation. In the meantime, here are the main on-the-field stories and highlights from the last week of A's baseball
A's draft third baseman Chapman in first round
OK, I lied. One off-the-field story. Meet the Athletics' top three draft picks of 2014. They are Matt Champan (3B), Daniel Gossett (RHP), and Brett Graves (RHP).
Stephen Vogt returns
Stephen Vogt was a hero last October, but he was the victim of a numbers game in spring training this year and had to start the season in Triple-A (and ultimately, the DL, with an oblique injury). But he's back! And better than ever! He went 5-for-15 for the week, but it was the timing of his hits that once again mattered the most. On Tuesday, his pinch-hit RBI double tied the game in the eighth inning and the A's went on to notch a three-run 10th for the comeback victory.
Then, in Friday's opener against the Orioles, Vogt struck again. The A's tied the game in the eighth and took it to extra innings once more. This time, again as a pinch-hitter, he re-created his ALDS walk-off almost exactly to drive in the go-ahead (and eventual winning) run.
Oh, and he started in right field twice, because Billy Beane said so.
Ryan Cook returns as well
Cook did not need Tommy John surgery. Yet. For now, he's back, though he was still shaking off some rust last week. He appeared twice and allowed three hits and two walks while recording only four outs, none on strikes. We'll give him some time to settle in before judging.
Nelson Cruz is not fast
This is almost how Friday's extra-inning game ended. With runners on second and third, two outs, and Chris Davis at the plate, Cruz decided to take things into his own hands.
Nope. Probably should have let the guy who hit 53 homers last year take a whack at it.
Ball don't lie
On Sunday, in the third inning, John Jaso hit a grand slam. However, it was overturned and shortened to a double after a replay review. What do you think?
I'm not sure what the ground rules are at Camden Yards, so I don't know if the ball needs to clear that second wall or not. The list of stipulations on the Orioles' site isn't much help, though the line "Ball rebounding in playing field: IN PLAY" might apply. Either way, the best part of the situation was that the first base umpire initially called it in play, but was overruled by ... third base umpire Angel Hernandez, who called it a homer! Then the New York crew overruled Angel. Of course, when we finally get a make-up call from Angel, the league takes it away.
Of course, it didn't end up mattering. After a walk and a groundout, Brandon Moss stepped in and cleaned things up.
Ball don't lie.
Craig Gentry: Kitten, or bird?
You be the judge.
This is what we were talking about last winter when we said that Gentry was a better defender than Coco. With all due respect. But yes, Gentry is a demigod when it comes to defense. Oh, and each of those catches robbed the first batter of the game for the opposing team, which is not only a fantastic coincidence but is also a great way to set the tone for the evening.
And, while we're talking about glovework, here is Donaldson making one of his best plays yet:
M. V. Effing. P.