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Oakland A’s pass their test after tough May schedule

They went 10-9 over a daunting 19-game stretch.

Olson has been Oakland’s best hitter in May.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Three weeks ago, we ran an article called, “Oakland A’s face major test in month of May.” The A’s were gearing up for the toughest section of their 2018 schedule, a 19-game stretch against most of the best teams in baseball. For a club that is no longer a doormat but also isn’t yet fully contending, this group of opponents would tell us a lot about where the A’s currently stand. From that post:

And that’s the test. Can the green and gold hold their own as they pass through this gauntlet? Can they hang in there and win at least eight or nine of these 19 games, or will they face a couple sweeps and lose all the momentum they’ve built? Can they surprise us all and somehow come out ahead against the best of the best?

In the end, Oakland more than held their own. They went 10-9 over those intimidating 19 contests, and it wasn’t far from being even better. One of their losses to the Yankees was the direct result of a botched replay review, which incorrectly scrubbed out the A’s winning run in the 9th inning. Two more of the losses to the Mariners were tight one-run affairs that could have just as easily bounced either way. There are also areas where these results could have gone worse, of course, but they really weren’t far from going 13-6.

What does this success mean for Oakland’s immediate future? Nico explored that topic last night, concluding with a perfect balance of patience and cautious optimism:

That is not to say the A’s are wild card contenders, certainly not front runners, but as they sit at 28-25 with 109 to play, and a soft schedule ahead, they have positioned themselves well to make a run. ...

Buyers in July? Not yet. Maybe not ever. But positioned to take a real shot at the second wild card? At the moment, it seems like they’re on their way to being on their way.

For now, though, here’s a quick look back at what the A’s just accomplished over the last three weeks. This list includes each opponent, their now-current record, and the result of their recent series against Oakland.

  • 0-3 against Astros (34-20)
  • 1-2 against Yankees (33-16)
  • 2-1 against Red Sox (36-17)
  • 4-0 against Blue Jays (25-28)
  • 1-2 against Mariners (32-20)
  • 2-1 against D’Backs (26-26)

A couple of these opponents had already softened up before the A’s faced them. Toronto was barely .500 by the time we saw them, and their sweep at the hands of Oakland dropped them into 4th place in the AL East (where they still stand today). Arizona was leading the entire NL three weeks ago, but they lost 13-of-14 games before facing the A’s and are now in the bottom half of their league.

Oakland only went 4-8 against the rest of those clubs, which might dampen the excitement about their success against truly great opponents. However, this is where the what-ifs come in — give us that extra Yankee game and it’s 5-7, and there were a couple more one-run losses on top of that. The results aren’t great on the surface, but they absolutely hung in there against the toughest competition available and that counts for something on a long-term scale. The only team that really crushed them was the reigning champion Astros, which is fair enough.

Here’s a rundown of each series:

Houston Astros (home)

A’s swept, 0-3

  • Astros 16, A’s 2 (recap)
  • Astros 4, A’s 2 (recap)
  • Astros 4, A’s 1 (recap)

Summary: They’re the defending champs, they have the best rotation in recent memory, and they’ve owned the A’s the last couple years. Getting swept at home is always disappointing, but it’s most understandable against Houston. Keuchel, McCullers, and Cole shut down an A’s lineup that had already been struggling for the previous couple weeks.

New York Yankees (road)

A’s lose, 1-2

  • A’s 10, Yankees 5 (recap)
  • Yankees 7, A’s 6 (recap)
  • Yankees 6, A’s 2 (recap)

Summary: This was essentially a split. Both teams won one game handily, and then the umps decided the third. The good news was that Oakland’s lineup woke up from their slump, including the long-awaited addition of Dustin Fowler in CF. The highlight of the series was seeing (and beating) our old pal Sonny Gray (but Yankee fans seriously need to stop booing him; he’s not Jim Johnson).

Boston Red Sox (road)

A’s win, 2-1

  • A’s 6, Red Sox 5 (recap)
  • A’s 5, Red Sox 3 (recap)
  • Red Sox 6, A’s 4 (recap)

Summary: Sweet victory. The A’s went into the house of one of the best teams in baseball and took care of business. They lost to Chris Sale in the finale, which is fair enough, and even then they knocked him out after five innings. The season series with Boston is now over, and Oakland went 4-2. The rest of MLB is 13-34 against them.

Toronto Blue Jays (road)

A’s sweep, 4-0

  • A’s 10, Blue Jays 5 (recap)
  • A’s 3, Blue Jays 1 (recap)
  • A’s 5, Blue Jays 4 (recap)
  • A’s 9, Blue Jays 2 (recap)

Summary: A four-game sweep on the road was only the beginning of the story in this series. In each of the first two games the A’s lost their starting pitcher early due to injury, but the bullpen came to the rescue both times to salvage victories. In the third game, Toronto led 4-0 entering the 8th inning but Oakland came back on a clutch Chad Pinder grand slam. Not only did the A’s win four games, they also showed as much fight and perseverance as you can ever hope to see from a baseball team. This was encouraging beyond the excellent raw results, though by the end we’d lost Andrew Triggs, Brett Anderson, and Khris Davis to the DL.

Seattle Mariners (home)

A’s lose, 1-2

  • Mariners 3, A’s 2 (recap)
  • Mariners 1, A’s 0 (recap)
  • A’s 4, Mariners 3 (recap)

Summary: The Mariners had just lost stars Robinson Cano (PED suspension) and Dee Gordon (injury), but they haven’t missed a beat and are still looking like a potential playoff team (for now). All three of these games could have easily gone either way (especially with a couple extra defensive plays), and the most important takeaway is that the A’s hung with them throughout and at least didn’t get swept in three straight coin-flips. As an extra bonus Oakland beat its arch-nemesis King Felix, and to make it even better they did so in a bullpen game.

Arizona Diamondbacks (home)

A’s win, 2-1

  • D’Backs 7, A’s 1 (recap)
  • A’s 3, D’Backs 0 (recap)
  • A’s 2, D’Backs 1 (recap)

Summary: Arizona has one of the worst offenses in baseball, now ranking 29th in runs per game. That provided a great opportunity for Oakland’s rotation, who got a shutout from Daniel Mengden and a quality spot start from Frankie Montas. The D’Backs entered in a massive slump so a sweep should have been within reach here, but a series win is good enough.

It’s difficult not to be satisfied by these overall results, if not downright excited. The A’s could have laid down and watched their season end early, but instead they scratched and clawed and came out of it with their winning record intact at 28-25. That’s even more impressive when you realize that they didn’t really hit that much, at least not outside their 7-3 East Coast road trip in which they scored 60 runs in 10 games:

A’s, last 19 games: .229/.296/.399, 24 HR, 77 runs (4.05 runs/game), 8.3% BB, 21.5% Ks

The pitching was supposed to be the question mark on this team, but it carried its weight:

A’s, last 19 games: 3.88 ERA, 171⅔ ip, 126 Ks (6.6 K/9), 67 BB (3.5 BB/9), 21 HR

They look even better if you remove that 16-run outlier from the very first game of this stretch (most of those runs were allowed by Brett Anderson and Wilmer Font anyway, neither of whom are on the current staff due to an injury and trade, respectively):

A’s, last 18 games: 3.43 ERA, 162⅔ ip, 122 Ks, 61 BB, 18 HR

The Tampa Bay Rays are in town as Oakland’s next opponent, and they are similar in stature — around .500 (25-26), in the middle of their division, and figuring out their identity after four straight losing seasons. After that, though, June offers a schedule as soft as May’s was daunting:

  • 3 games at Royals (18-35)
  • 2 games at Rangers (22-33)
  • 4 game vs. Royals (18-35)
  • 3 games vs. Astros (34-20)
  • 3 games vs. Angels (29-24)
  • 2 games at Padres (22-32)
  • 4 games at White Sox (16-34)
  • 4 games at Tigers (23-29)

There’s a tough week sandwiched in the middle there, but otherwise this stretch includes 19 games against losing teams. The Royals and White Sox are two of the three worst clubs in the sport (along with the Orioles), while the Rangers and Padres are last place in their respective divisions. There are also three off-days, on each Monday.

Of course, we shouldn’t get too cocky here. Just as the A’s surprised some superior opponents this month, they could get upset by a couple of these weaklings, especially if the clock strikes midnight on the patchwork pitching staff. The point of this post isn’t to suggest that Oakland is gearing up for a legitimate playoff run.

Rather, the point is to enjoy a milestone amid a rebuilding/bridge year. The A’s faced a tough test in May, and they passed it. Not with flying colors and a lopsided record, but with the absence of abject failure. Even if that doesn’t turn out to be enough to make serious noise this season, it’s another excellent sign that the darkest days are behind us and Oakland is once more trending in the right direction — upward toward their next competitive window.