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Game Thread #116: A’s at Angels

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Good evening and the very happiest of Fridays to you! After a short week of baseball (but exciting, nonetheless), the A’s look to get back into the nightly dinner shows we’ve come to expect during these endless summer months that secretly we don’t want to end. After four years of a green-and-gold baseball drought, we find the 2018 Oakland Athletics playing into the third week of August holding the second Wild Card. That’s right; if the season ended today, our team is in the playoffs. No starting pitching? No problem. If not dead last, certainly bottom three in MLB payroll? No problem. Not sure if the A’s are setting up to play a Wild Card game with an entire team of closers? No problem.

It’s more—certainly so much more—than we ever expected in the summer of 2018, so buckle up and enjoy the ride as we come down to the final seven weeks of baseball. Here’s where we are:

  • 4.5 games back of the AL West-leading Houston Astros, who are currently playing the Mariners
  • 4.5 games back of the 1st Wild Card-leading New York Yankees, who are playing the Rangers
  • 2.5 games ahead of their (only) nearest competition; the Seattle Mariners

The A’s have arrived in my backyard tonight with a team that feels more 2002 than 2018, and I mean that in a variety of ways, as they start their AL West circuit; Anaheim, Seattle, Houston, Texas over the next two weeks. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is the most important stretch of their season to date. The A’s control their own destiny from this moment on as they try to beat the Angels and Rangers for the wins, and the Mariners and Astros for playoff positions.

What a difference four months makes. The last time I was in Angels Stadium was the first home start for Shohei Ohtani during the second week of April of this year; although it feels like a lifetime ago. The game was sold out, Ohtani nearly no-hit the A’s, and the rocking Angels crowd felt like their season was just beginning, while the re-building A’s slid their way into the basement to start the year.

But then...something unexpected happened.

As the days grew longer and spring turned into summer, the A’s heated up right with the weather and began to win games, nightly, even. They climbed past Texas, past the Angels, and never looked back, eventually climbing right over Seattle, and in a matter of weeks, found themselves in a position no one ever could have dreamed; they are within shouting distance of the AL West lead with enough games to play to win the West if they can keep it going.

The undervalued commodity of 2018 is obviously that of the closer/late bullpen and that’s what the A’s have collected. Wednesday’s win against the Dodgers highlights perfectly the A’s emerging strategy; have a starter go five innings, six is a bonus, have the offense fight for runs, have the starter keep the game close, before employing the nearly-unbeatable bullpen for a 3-4 inning bullpen war. Score the late run, win the game, somehow end up 21 games over .500.

Shall we get this started? Brett Anderson is the A’s starting pitcher in tonight’s contest and his last start was a beauty. He tossed seven shutout, two-hit innings against the Tigers last Friday night; a game the A’s eventually won 1-0. I would like a repeat tonight against the Angels, please. It’s been reported that the Angels’ lineup will be Trout-less, so that’s one less bat for Anderson to worry about. Meanwhile, the A’s offense will face Felix Pena.

Let’s start the series off with a win.

Here are your lineups:

Today's Lineups

Nick Martini - LF Kole Calhoun - RF
Matt Chapman - 3B David Fletcher - 2B
Jed Lowrie - 2B Justin Upton - LF
Khris Davis - DH Albert Pujols - DH
Matt Olson - 1B Andrelton Simmons - SS
Stephen Piscotty - RF Jefry Marte - 1B
Mark Canha - CF Jose Briceno - C
Marcus Semien - SS Kaleb Cowart - 3B
Jonathan Lucroy - C Eric Young Jr. - CF