Rewind: A's pass their early AL West test

Rewind: A's pass their early AL West test
April 30, 2014, 10:15 pm
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They’ve got to feel good about themselves, and the rest of the A.L. West has to realize their work is cut out to unseat the two-time defending division champions.
Joe Stiglich

They hit. They pitched. … Then they hit some more.

So dominant were the Oakland A’s in a three-game sweep at Texas that you wondered if they could have found a way to bottle some of that great play, keep it on reserve, and dip into it later in the season when they might need it at some critical juncture.

Wednesday’s 12-1 throttling of the Rangers capped a 19-game stretch against American League West opponents during which the A’s went 12-7 and commanded a three-game lead over Texas in the division standings. They stand at 18-10 overall, and after getting an extended sampling of their A.L. West competition, they have to like how they currently stack up.

What have we discovered about the A’s to this point?

One, the starting rotation has shown remarkable resiliency. Down two starters after losing Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin to season-ending elbow injuries, the rotation has not just survived but thrived. Oakland’s 2.85 starters’ ERA is the lowest in the American League, which contributes to an overall 2.78 ERA that also is the best in the league.

[RELATED: A.J. Griffin undergoes Tommy John surgery]

Sonny Gray leads the A.L. in individual ERA at 1.76. Two other starters are in the top 10 – Scott Kazmir is fourth at 2.11 and Jesse Chavez ranks seventh at 2.32. Chavez was in terrific form Wednesday, allowing just one hit over seven innings, striking out eight and walking one. Most impressive was that he stayed sharp despite sitting through a long layoff as his teammates worked on a seven-run top of the third. By the time he took the mound in the bottom of the fourth, he owned a 10-0 lead.

“He stayed extremely focused out there, even with that huge lead,” A’s second baseman Eric Sogard said. “Some guys will relax. He stayed with his game and was phenomenal.”

Can the A’s starting staff keep up this pace? It’s a fair question, and one we won’t know the answer to until the months start ticking away. How will Chavez, who began spring training as a reliever, hold up over an entire season? He has never pitched more than 67 1/3 innings in any big league season, though he’s compiled lots more innings as a starter during his stints in the minors over the years.

So far, Gray and Kazmir are proving to be the anchors of the rotation that the A’s need them to be. They need to continue to pitch to their current form. Just as important, Dan Straily needs to keep the ball in the yard and Tommy Milone must show the consistency he’s displayed at different points over the past two seasons.

Offensively, the A’s are showing some of the characteristics of the 2012 and 2013 clubs. When they’ve clicked, it’s been the entire batting order contributing, as was the case in Wednesday’s 17-hit outburst. Seven different players had multiple hits, seven different guys drove in at least one run.

You expect players like Josh Donaldson, Jed Lowrie and Brandon Moss to carry the load that they’ve carried so far. But how big have the contributions of Derek Norris been? He’s on a 16 for 32 tear over his last 10 games, and his .386 batting average leads the A.L. among players with 50 or more plate appearances.

Lots of players are getting in on the act, and that’s why the A’s are atop the A.L. West as the calendar turns to May. They’ve got to feel good about themselves, and the rest of the A.L. West has to realize their work is cut out to unseat the two-time defending division champions.

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