The rollercoaster continued for the Oakland Athletics. They finished Week 24 by dethroning King Felix and beating the Mariners, but then they got swept, at home, by the MLB-worst Rangers. Oops. But wait! Then they bounced back to take two of three from the Phillies, and suddenly things are looking up again. The A's still lead the Wild Card race by a half-game over the Royals, and that should be a full game by the time Oakland plays on Monday after the Royals wrap up their suspended game against the Indians (KC trails 4-2 in the 10th) (update: KC lost). The A's still control their own fate and the race is theirs to lose.
On offense, Josh Donaldson (.280/.308/.520) was the only everyday player who made any real noise. He appears to have accepted the mantle as the team leader, and his majestic walk-off homer against the Phillies on Sunday demonstrated how he can carry an offense -- it was his third walk-off homer this year. Geovany Soto (2-for-6, 2 doubles, 3 BB, 3 RBI), Josh Reddick (4-for-8, triple, 2 RBI), and Nick Punto (2-for-5, triple, BB) also found success, but they each only had a small handful of plate appearances. Other than Donaldson's walk-off, the only other homer of the week was hit by Brandon Moss.
As for the pitching, it was a tale of two rotations. Sonny Gray was awful, and Scott Kazmir was awful twice. But Jeff Samardzija tossed eight shutout innings (only to be betrayed in the ninth by the bullpen), stretching his scoreless streak to 16 frames dating back to Sept. 5, and Jon Lester threw seven dominant innings in a victory over the Phils. Drew Pomeranz made a start and turned in his customary outing -- five shutout innings. Remember when A.J. Griffin used to throw exactly six innings in every single start? Pom seems like he's good for exactly five shutout innings on any given day, no more, no less. That's not such a bad thing.
Sadly, it was a tale of only one bullpen, and that tale was a bad one. Dan Otero blew the scoreless tie in Pomeranz's game against the Phillies, and Sean Doolittle suffered an all-time ninth-inning meltdown for the ages, serving up five runs to turn a 1-0 lead into an eventual 6-1 loss. Even worse, Doolittle walked two batters in that outing, raising his total to seven free passes for the season. On the bright side, he came back to retire all six batters he faced on Sunday in Oakland's 10-inning victory.
Here are the main stories from the last week.
Is Shark an ace after all?
When the A's acquired Jeff Samardzija in July, they were criticized for paying an ace-level price for a No. 2 (or even No. 3) starter. Indeed, Samardzija was not far above average in his first couple months in Oakland -- he was good, but he wasn't a No. 1. That has changed since late August.
Shark has completed eight innings in three of his last five outings, and he went seven in the other two. He is a horse who will eat up innings regardless of how well he's pitching, and that's one of the key characteristics of a top-level starter. The other is to be good in those innings, and Shark is now doing that too. His aforementioned 16-frame scoreless streak has helped give him a 1.66 ERA in those last five starts, and he's backed that up by striking out 44 batters against just three walks in 38 innings. In his only non-quality start in that stretch, he allowed four runs in seven frames with nine strikeouts, mostly because Chris Carter was dominating the entire world and couldn't be kept in the park by any human (or predatory fish). Here's his start on Wednesday against the Rangers:
Now the bad news. The A's won only one of those five games he started. They got shut out once, they lost 2-1 in another, and the DooDoo meltdown cost them another. And the opponents Shark faced included the Astros (twice), the White Sox, and the Rangers, plus once against the Angels. But still. It's not like Sonny or Kazmir are shutting down teams of that (low) quality. Shark is pitching like he has a laser beam attached to his head, and it's coming at the perfect time.
The triple is arguably the most exciting play in baseball. The A's hit four of them last week. We'll begin with Josh Reddick:
On Thursday, Sam Fuld drove in a pair to cut a 4-0 third-inning deficit down to 4-2:
And on Sunday, with the score tied in the bottom of the ninth, Nick Punto notched this hit to put the winning run on third with one out (he was stranded, but the A's later won anyway).
Jed Lowrie hit one too, but there is no video available.
Keep flashing that leather
Josh Donaldson is still the best defensive third baseman in baseball:
And somehow, Stephen Vogt is good at first base now. You can see him make an impressive stretch in that first Donaldson video, and here you can see him execute a perfect 3-6-3 double play.
My god, did we all need this.
That just felt like one of those moments. Y'know, the kind that finally wakes up a sleeping giant, the kind that gets the whole team excited anew and builds that mythical momentum. There have been a few of those during this second half that turned out be mere flukes within the larger collapse, but if that walk-off didn't renew your fAith then I don't know what will. Never mind that Reddick missed with the post-game pie; his arm is normally much better than that.
One week left. This is what we've all been waiting for.