A’s snatch best record in baseball with Rangers win

O.CO COLISEUM — It took a while, and was absolutely painful at times. But without pain, there’s no gain, and the Oakland A’s (43-28) took sole possession of the best record in baseball Wednesday.

The team did it with the help of Sonny Gray (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER) , who held the Texas Rangers (35-37) to only six hits over seven innings. Not to mention third baseman Josh Donaldson and his hefty bat coming back alive in Oakland’s 4-2 victory.

Donaldson had come out of a 33-at-bat hitless streak Sunday, and has gone 5-for-14 since. It was on a Donaldson single that the A’s scored their second run of the game.

The entire team dominated Texas starter Nick Tepesch (5 IP, 1 K, 4 ER, 9 H, L), who entered the game with a 3.94 ERA and left with the number at over 4.00.

Manager Bob Melvin noted after the game that the team doesn’t expect to score 10 runs, like they have a number of times this year, but the clutch hitting will get them by:

“You’re going to go through periods where things don’t go smoothly offensively.”

Gray, though, was nothing short of splendid. He threw 67 of his 100 pitches for strikes, pounding the strike zone with a unique blend of fastballs and breaking pitches.

Gray was also aided by outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who made an incredible leaping catch on a sharply hit line drive to left field.

It wasn’t the blowout that A’s fans have become accustomed to, but there are no complaints from the clubhouse. The team plays whatever hot album that’s just hit the streets after every win, and there’s starting to become a shortage of songs remaining to be played.

But the success also carries some shortcomings. Oakland now has six straight games in which they’ve committed an error, eight total during that span. Wednesday, it was a misplayed ball by Cespedes, who’s made some of his best plays moments after an error.

Regardless, Cespedes is coming closer by the day to cementing himself as one of baseball’s elite players and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. But it also helps to create what is undisputedly, the most versatile roster in the American League. Melvin said:

“I’m not sure that any team has three guys in the middle of the order with that kind of production (Donaldson, Stephen Vogt and Cespedes). With (Derek) Norris on top of that, you have four guys that can knock in runs big time. … I’ve never had a dynamic like this, where you can actually use all three catchers.”

Donaldson has better numbers that any third baseman this year, as does Norris for catchers in the American League, despite the fact that Norris is one of three catchers on the 25 man roster. Vogt played right field, since Coco Crisp took a day off following a collision with the center field wall Tuesday night.

Sean Doolittle, now the A’s closer, has an astounding 48:1 strikeout to walk ratio, making a very strong case as an All Star. So has first baseman and outfielder Brandon Moss, with his 17 home runs and 55 RBIs.

With all the offense on Oakland’s roster, it’s no surprise that they hold the best record in the game, and there’s no sign that anyone is slowing down.

They’ve won 15 of their last 20 and will play a four game series against Boston starting Thursday. What’s sweeter, Boston is currently four games below .500, and owns a negative run differential.

Oakland’s run differential? They lead the league in that category too, with 132 more runs scored than they’ve allowed. The A’s have also scored 38 more runs than the next American League team, the Toronto Blue Jays.

Really, the A’s lead the league in just about every category a team would want to. That includes pitching, with a Major League-best 241 runs allowed.

It’s a satisfying accomplishment for Melvin, though he doesn’t lean too heavy on it. Melvin knows that it’s only halfway through the season, and wins and losses don’t matter until the last out of the season is made. That doesn’t mean it’s not helpful, Melvin explained:

“You try and take that confidence, and where you are right now, and apply it to games tomorrow or the next day.”

For now, the team will just have to settle with being better than everyone else. It’s a rough life.

Notes

The A’s have now won 15 of their last 20 home games, after losing six straight. … Derek Norris (1-for-3, walk) is batting .406 (13-for-32) in June, with three doubles, two home runs and eight RBI over his last four games. … Sonny Gray is 8-2 with a 1.90 ERA in 13 career appearances against the AL West, compared to 4-4 with a 3.79 ERA against all other teams. … Alberto Callaspo (2-for-4) is 8-for-11 (.727) with two RBIs and two walks since being reinstated from the paternity list. He was 1-for-28 over his final nine games before going on paternity leave last Friday.


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