Following a fruitful Friday in Tampa, the Athletics continue to inch closer to their first postseason berth in four years.
Oakland’s historic surge toward October baseball started on June 15, a day that began with the A’s 10-1/2 games back in the American League West race, 12 games behind the top Wild Card spot and 10 games out of the AL’s fifth and final playoff spot. Fresh off a 2-1 10-inning victory Friday, the A’s are not only well in position to secure a playoff spot — with their magic number for a clinch at seven — they are in position to challenge for the division title, or at least the top Wild Card slot and a home winner-take-all game.
Between June 15 and Aug, 1, the A’s improved their record in association to .500 by 18 games — from one game under to 17 over. Since August though, Oakland’s push has only gotten firmer.
Since Aug. 2, the A’s, who at the time were three days removed from being swept in Colorado, have gone from 19 games over .500 to 32.
Oakland called up Ramón Laureano on Aug. 3 looking to reignite the fire that had carried them back into the playoff race — and they got that re-ignition. But little did they know, the defense, clutch offense and overall high-energy play he used to make a massive impact the night of his big league debut would make him an integral part in what has become a historic charge to the regular-season finish line.
In his first major league at-bat, Laureano nearly beat out a routine two-hopper to Detroit shortstop José Iglesias, high-stepping up the first base line like Bo Jackson seeking the endzone and coming within one step of beating out the throw.
The rookie eventually owned that first night under the big league lights, flashing his howitzer of a right arm to end the top of the 13 then slapping his first hit to end the bottom-half in a walkoff.
He has not stopped his impactful play since and is now slashing .278/.352/.509 with five home runs, 14 RBIs and is third on the team with five stolen bases. Laureano has also mixed in numerous stellar and game-saving catches, while also sliding into the AL’s top 15 in outfield assists (7) — in just 35 games.
Matt Chapman, who has had his own share of spectacular defense and big hits this season, had the highest of praise for the 24-year-old center fielder and the effort he puts forth every second he is on the field:
“The guy is crazy, but I love the way he plays center field. He goes out and gets it, plays hard; he’s one of those guys that energizes us. He’s maybe the best center fielder I’ve ever seen.”
Laureano has become recognized for his willingness to charge head-first into the outfield wall in search of a catch, even if that catch is a virtual impossibility. Bob Melvin said he is surprised the outfield wall hasn’t collapsed with how hard his rookie center fielder has crashed into them; Edwin Jackson called him a game-changer in the field, a guy that makes the man on the mound much more confident.
Chris Bassitt, who played much of the season with Laureano and Triple-A Nashville, said he has not been the least bit surprised by the way the center fielder goes about playing defense:
“I knew, defensively, what was going to happen happened. Obviously he’s made some absurd throws but we saw that for months in Nashville. … It’s not really that surprising, that’s kinda him. We had six-, seven-, eight-run leads in Nashville and he was still doing the same thing. It’s like, ‘hey, thank you for catching it but give up a double here, it’s alright.’ He’s got that switch that he just doesn’t turn off, which you have to respect. It’s great to have him out there.”
Said Laureano, regarding that “switch:”
“I’ve been doing that since I started playing baseball. Over the years I’ve had to slow down and be smart about it because it’s a marathon it’s not a sprint, this sport. Gotta keep getting better at that.”
Melvin said that effort is how the product of the Dominican Republic has gone from a tiny two-year college in Northeast Oklahoma to the 16th round of the 2014 draft to being a key contributor for a surprise playoff contender:
“He deserves what he’s getting. … Nothing’s been given to this kid, really his whole career, he’s earned every bit of it. … He’s our center fielder. He brings a different dynamic, certainly speed-wise, for us, covers a ton of ground. … To envision him to be in this spot at this point probably wasn’t realistic, looking a ways back. This is a key addition for us; makes us a lot better of a team.”
Laureano has done a little bit of everything to make his club better. The A’s are 26-9 in games in which he has appeared, and 6-1 with him in the leadoff spot. The former Astros farm hand has initiated rallies with key walks and opposite-field hits, and finished them with other key knocks. He is the quickest in A’s franchise history to achieve multiple two-homer games (29 games) while just as quickly blossoming into one of baseball’s best defensive outfielder with one of its strongest and most accurate arm.
A little-known prospect just two months ago, Leaureano has solidified himself as the center fielder of the future on baseball’s top up-and-comer. He is a Gold Glove-winning All-Star to-be but, for now, he will settle being the outfield anchor and offensive igniter for a club honing in on the playoffs. He said:
“It’s cool to contribute on a team like this; I’m just glad I’m here. I’m just another guy here to get a ring for this finger. Gotta keep working.”