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Red-hot first-half finish sends A’s to break in excellent position

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Oakland Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien (10) celebrates a walk off single in the 6-5 victory over the Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, March 29, 2018.

Over the past month, the Athletics have made up 8-1/2 games in the American League Wild Card race. With a win Sunday to conclude the first half, Oakland heads into the break well within striking distance of a playoff spot.

The four-day break brought on by the All-Star Game offers an opportunity for those A’s banged up to get some much-needed rest and relaxation. But it could have arrived at the most inopportune time for Oakland, who have won or split nine consecutive series’ and played to a league-best 21-6 record since June 16, arriving at 55-42 for the first half — just five games back of where they were when they led the league into the break in 2014.

Manager Bob Melvin said before Sunday’s game that he has given his club — lest All-Stars Blake Treinen and Jed Lowrie — the full four days off, adding that the team will reconvene for an early workout before Friday’s game against the Giants. He is hopeful that everyone in green and gold can unplug from the long grind of a 162-game season, including himself:

“I try to take my mind off baseball during the break. … I’ll watch our guys in the All-Star Game a little bit, but I just try to decompress and take it easy.”

One player who will likely mot be afforded the get-away time the rest hope for is Matt Joyce, who is currently eight games into a stint on the disabled list this season, his second this season resulting from a back pain.

Melvin said that, following an epidural, Saturday was the first time his veteran outfielder felt “pretty good:”

“He did get a shot, and he’s a little sore from that — several days after, he was still kinda feeling the effects of it — but yesterday, I think, was the first day he started to feel pretty good. He’s not doing any baseball activity yet, but hopefully he’s turning the corner as far as how he feels overall.”

Joyce missed most of June with what was reported as lower back pain, playing just eight games all month. And after two games played in July, the 33-year-old has found himself back on the DL. He is slashing .203/.311/.359 with seven home runs and 30 runs scored coming off a season that saw him play an integral role in the A’s late-season revival with a .243/.335/.473 slash line with a career bests in homers (25) and runs (78).

It is unclear what duties will be waiting for Joyce, Oakland’s Opening Day left fielder, when he finally does return.

He will likely take the roster spot currently being held by rookie Nick Martini, but playing time could be hard to come by. That is because the four-man contingent of outfielders currently holding down the lino’s share of the innings — Stephen Piscotty, Mark Canha, Dustin Fowler and Chad Pinder — has combined for 20 home runs 53 RBIs and 51 runs scored over the last 30 games.

Though he finds himself in a situation similar to that of Joyce, Daniel Gossett, on the disabled list with a right elbow flexor muscle strain, will take all the rest time he can get.

Gossett (0-3, 5.18 ERA) has not appeared in a big league game since June 3. His rehab process has progressed of late, though. His flat-ground throwing extended out to 90 feet Sunday, according to Melvin. Given the success of the A’s rotation, however, there will not be a roster spot waiting for him when he returns.

As for that rotation, Melvin gave some foresight into his plans once his club gets back on the field.

The Oakland skipper said there is a “good chance” Edwin Jackson will get the nod Friday, adding that Trevor Cahill and Sean Manaea, in some order, would make the starts in Saturday and Sunday. That means Brett Anderson and Frankie Montas, who will be recalled from Triple-A Nashville, will each make their first start if the second half when the A’s play three in Texas, though Melvin would not commit to which would start when.

Those are the five names that Melvin and the A’s will be leaning on as they look for Oakland’s first postseason appearance in four seasons. The A’s, who boast the American League’s fifth-highest scoring offense (4.6 runs per game) and fifth-best best bullpen ERA (3.53), will start the second half three games behind the Mariners for the AL’s second Wild Card slot. But Melvin said that, after three straight last-place finishes, this season has been anything but a surprise:

“I knew we were good, I felt like we were good based on what we accomplished last year. Everyone, once we came to camp, felt like we had a good team. Then we just take it day-to-day with the expectation to win.”

Stephen PIscotty brought up the balance of positive and negatives regarding the timing of the break, saying that he is ready for the rest but wishes his A’s could keep rolling.

The right fielder added that he and his club will be ready to get back to work come Friday:

“We’re playing really confident baseball. We’re making a charge here and we’re really happy with how we finished. We’re right there, so we’re excited to keep coming.”

The skipper concurred:

“We’ve been on a nice little run and we’ve been able to cut the deficit a little bit. These guys are going to be excited to come back (Friday).”


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.

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