Usually fans are too impatient, wanting managers to treat every game like the 7th game of the World Series. Yet managers understand that some random middle game of a series in May isn't actually worth treating like more than the middle game of a series in May. This is because the 162-game season is a marathon and not a sprint.
The A's are no longer in a 162-game marathon for the AL West division crown. After 128 games, the A's and Angels have identical records of 76-52 so now the season becomes a 34-game season. 8 of those 34 games will be head-to-head with the Angels. What does this mean?
In a sense, small samples now matter because the "small sample noise" we try to ignore when looking at a player's stats in a given month? That's now the season. Rather than looking at it as 34 games, one could view it as 26 "one game swings" and 8 "two-game swings" and see it as 42 games in the standings in which the A's have some direct control.
I think it's entirely appropriate now for Bob Melvin to "pull out all the stops" to win a given A's-Angels game, with a two-game swing at stake in a 34-game season. We have already seen the beginnings of this, with Oakland tweaking its rotation to ensure that their "big 4" of Sonny Gray, Jon Lester, Scott Kazmir, and Jeff Samardzija will pitch (in that order) at Anaheim next weekend. A key reliever pitching 4 days in a row, or going 2 innings, is no longer overkill. It's a short season now and the head-to-head showdowns are literally twice as important -- as well as nearly 25% of the schedule.
The best news? Oakland's success against the Angels so far this season is starting to border on ownage. 8-3 thanks to a perfect 5-0 at the Opossum.com. The Angels have tarred and feathered losing teams this season, better than the A's have, and they deserve due credit for doing so. They have not, however, maintained a winning record against winning teams and nowhere has that been more problematic for LAA than against Oakland. Someone will lead the division by 1 game at the end of the day; here's hoping it's the A's.
And now a word about the A's lineup against LHP. (It's not "blrrrrrrrgh!!!!!" because that is a retching sound, but it is not in fact a word.)
Clearly Oakland's lineup is stronger overall these days when facing a RHP. Something the A's might want to consider when facing a LHP is that they have "double play central" in the middle of their lineup. Last night we saw Nate Freiman and Alberto Callaspo back-to-back in the order. Even Derek Norris and Josh Donaldson, in their slightly crippled state, are DPs waiting to happen when they hit the ball on the ground.
The A's might want to consider being a bit more aggressive about putting on an occasional hit-and-run, or attempting stolen bases, as those batters come up in DP situations. It's not for a love of "small ball"; it's for the love of god don't let this group bounce into rally-killing DP after rally-killing DP when that's what some of them are genetically designed to do.
But that's for another day: Oakland faces RHP Jered Weaver tonight at 5:07pm PDT behind Scott Kazmir, in ESPN's Sunday night game. See you then!