The Oakland Athletics kicked off the softest part of their 2014 schedule last week, and the early returns were solid. Not great, but solid. They dropped the first game of each series to the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers, but then salvaged the rest of each set to go 4-2 overall. Unfortunately, that means that they didn't really gain any ground on the Angels, but they didn't lose any either. Oakland is still the best team in baseball, and they still have a lead of a couple games in the division. Treading water is fine when the only goal is not drowning.
The best news was that the offense perked back up. After scoring only 48 runs in 14 games (3.43 per game) against the best teams in the league in the first half of July, they tallied 39 runs in only six games (6.50 per game) against the bottom-feeders. They were led by ... well, everyone pretty much. Josh Donaldson went 6-for-21 with six walks and only three strikeouts. Yoenis Cespedes hit three homers among his 7-for-21 stretch. Jed Lowrie continued his resurgence, John Jaso hit .400 with a few extra-base hits, Stephen Vogt went 8-for-24 with only one strikeout, Josh Reddick came back with a vengeance, Eric Sogard went 5-for-16, Derek Norris was 4-for-12, and at this point I've listed almost the entire lineup. Hey, look, the A's can smash bad teams just like the Angels can!
The pitching, meanwhile, limited its opponents to 19 runs in those same six games. Jeff Samardzija turned in a dominant outing, Scott Kazmir made two solid starts, and Sonny Gray battled for a win. Jason Hammel still hasn't found his groove, but everything can't go right all at once. Remember how bad Donaldson and Lowrie looked a month ago? Major Leagues go through slumps sometimes. In the pen, Sean Doolittle walked two batters to double his season total, but he teamed up with Luke Gregerson, Eric O'Flaherty, and Ryan Cook to toss 11⅔ scoreless frames. On the other hand, Dan Otero is starting to look a bit gassed and has been ineffective in his last several outings.
Here are the main stories from last week.
Ding dong, Johnson is gone
Sometimes things just go wrong. There is no reason why Jim Johnson should have sucked this year, but that's what happened. He could easily be good again next year, because that's how relievers work on a year-to-year basis. All that matters is that he wasn't getting it done this year and it was officially too late to continue sitting around waiting for him to get it together. The straw that broke the camel's back came when he entered a 9-2 game against the Astros on Wednesday, faced four batters, recorded no outs, and saw all four guys score. Oy.
Johnson was finally DFA'd last week, and there was much rejoicing. Evan Scribner was recalled to replace him in the pen, and he allowed just one run in his first three innings of work. If Scribbles is the last guy in your pen, you're doing alright. It's a bummer that Johnson didn't work out here, but I truly wish him the best of luck in the next chapter of his career and hope that the rest of Athletics Nation does the same.
Tony and Thomas in the Hall
The Hall of Fame had its annual induction ceremony on Sunday, and two of the new members have big ties to the A's: long-time manager Tony LaRussa, and 2006 hero Frank Thomas. Check out Tony's acceptance speech:
Congratulations to both individuals on fantastic baseball careers and their well-deserved honors!
The bats are back
There are so many highlights from the last week that it's tough to single anyone out. Therefore, let's take a look at the second inning on Sunday, when the A's batted around for the 22nd time this season.
There are lots of great hitters in this lineup, but their most important attribute is their ability to string together big innings and pound opposing pitchers into submission. It also helps when you can capitalize on opponents' mistakes, as they did with Miles Mikolas' throwing error in the above video. Home runs are great, but five-run, seven-run innings will win you games much faster.
OK, dingers also
Just kidding, dingers are awesome too.
Catch me if you can
Just in case you forgot how good the A's outfield defense is, here are two guys who are not Coco, Cespedes, or Reddick making awesome catches.
Sonny Gray is still a wizard
It's been awhile since we had a Sonny D highlight in here. I don't know if pickoffs are considered part of pitcher defense, but either way this is a right-hander picking off one of the best base runners in the league.
Just give the man his Gold Glove already.