OAKLAND – Keeping tabs on the American League West standings doesn’t rank high on John Jaso’s to-do list.
If the A’s catcher did sneak a peek at them, he’d notice that his team is in a pretty good position despite Sunday’s 6-1 defeat to the Minnesota Twins.
Six days ago, Oakland was clinging to a one-game division lead. Since then, they’ve stretched it to four games over the Los Angeles Angels, who are leaking a bit of oil lately.
So as the A’s set off on a seven-game road trip that begins Monday in Kansas City and continues to Atlanta, they have a chance to really do some damage to the Angels’ hopes. And despite the great temptation to look ahead to what the postseason might have in store, the A’s are focused first on securing another AL West championship to avoid the risky one-game wild card playoff.
But Jaso thinks the last thing he and his teammates need to do is focus in on the daily horse race in the standings.
“I think that can breed panic, and panic is never good in this game,” Jaso said. “… It’s pretty much all about us when we step on the field. We can’t really worry about what the Angels are doing. If we start looking at that, then it’s like, ‘Oh, we got a pretty good lead here. We can kind of start Cadillac-ing it.’ Then panic starts setting in when stuff starts going bad (in the standings).”
Sunday’s loss wrapped up a 10-game homestand during which the A’s went 6-4. Certainly not terrible, but given that they took on two sub-.500 teams during that stretch, fans can’t be blamed for expecting more.
The A’s mustered just six hits Sunday and saw their bullpen uncharacteristically stumble, with Luke Gregerson and Jesse Chavez giving up a combined five runs over the final two innings.
But the noteworthy silver lining came from right-hander Jason Hammel, who showed continuing signs of turning the corner. He limited the Twins to one run over 6 1/3 innings, striking out five and walking two. After giving up 18 earned runs in 17 innings over his first four starts with the A’s, Hammel has surrendered just one run in 12 innings over his past two outings.
He’s keeping the ball down in the strike zone more and mixing his pitches better. That’s producing more ground balls and keeping him from constantly pitching in the stretch with runners on base. As his ERA drops, his confidence is climbing.
“I’ve done it long enough to where you’re going to have a couple bumps and bruises here and there,” Hammel said. “For me , it was four (bad starts) in a row. You stay the course, keep working hard. Today I had a much better feel for my slider, and my fastball command is coming around.”
Now a four-game series awaits with the majors’ hottest team. The Royals won their seventh in a row Sunday, and they’re just a half-game behind Detroit for first place in the AL Central. They’re also boosted by the fact that they took two of three from Oakland at the Coliseum last weekend.
The A’s looked in prime offensive form Friday and Saturday, combining for 15 runs in victories over Minnesota. But on Sunday they looked more like the team that struggled for a good portion of the homestand, with too many unproductive at-bats and runners left on base.
Cleanup hitter Brandon Moss, in particular, remains in a rut. He went 2-for-28 on the homestand and didn’t drive in a single run. Over his past 12 games, he’s 4-for-44.
“He’s going through a tough time,” Melvin said. “A lot of times when you’re going through these types of slumps, you’re swinging at some pitches out of the zone. He’s usually very good about swinging at pitches in the zone. For a guy that we expect so much of, he’s been there (throughout the season. It’s just a little bit of funk for him. He’ll get out of it, though.”
Over four games in Kansas City, the A’s will see all three starters that they faced last week in Oakland – Jeremy Guthrie, lefty Jason Vargas and James Shields.
“Going in, we know they’re hot, but we played really well the last four days,” first baseman Stephen Vogt said. “We know what we’re going to get from our starters, so it’s ‘Let’s score more than they do,’ as cliché as it sounds.”