Despite another bullpen failure on Tuesday night, the Oakland Athletics won two of three in Minnesota against the Twins this week to take a 3.5-game lead in the American League West division as they head to Texas on Friday to face the Rangers for the last time in the 2013 regular season.
Overall, the A's outscored the Twins 29-9 in these three games, the first meetings between the two squads in 2013. With topical numbers like that, one might assume an Oakland sweep of the three contests -- and it probably should have been.
The A's had a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning on Tuesday evening, but Ryan Cook surrendered a two-run home run to former Oakland outfielder Josh Willingham, and Oakland ended up losing the game, 4-3.
Cook's gaffe took a win away from Jarrod Parker, who once again pitched well enough: six innings and two runs against. The A's young ace still hasn't lost since May 22.
With that defeat, the A's are now 65-5 when taking a lead into the eighth inning this season. Compare that to the Rangers' 67-3 mark in the same circumstances, and a two-game difference doesn't seem like much -- except when postseason positioning is at stake.
Currently, Oakland would be in line to face Detroit -- again -- in the AL Division Series, and considering how that turned out last season, it's a matchup the A's might want to avoid repeating any time soon, even with the improved scheduling format for the postseason this year.
Fortunately, the team recovered from the Tuesday night debacle to thoroughly thump the Twins on Wednesday and Thursday.
Oakland dropped 22 hits and 18 runs on the Twins in the 18-3 win yesterday, when every starter had at least one safe-base knock. Jed Lowrire had four RBI, while Yoenis Cespedes and Stephen Vogt each added three themselves. Beneficiary Sonny Gray only had to throw 91 pitches for his third major-league win.
Today, the A's kept hitting, registering 11 hits and eight more runs in an 8-2 victory. A.J. Griffin won his 14th game with a seven-inning, two-hit performance, while Josh Reddick returned from the disabled list to hit a home run and drive in three.
Now, Oakland (85-61) is a season-high 24 games over .500 as they head to face the Rangers (81-64), who are struggling right now -- losers of eight in their last ten. With that 3.5-game lead in the division, the A's are sitting pretty as this Texas series is their last this season against a team with a winning record.
The Rangers themselves need to stay frosty in order to secure a postseason spot. They currently lead Tampa Bay (78-66) by 2.5 games for the top wild-card spot, but behind the Rays are four other teams ready to pounce: New York (78-68), Cleveland (77-68), Baltimore (77-68) and even Kansas City (77-69).
Oakland has done itself well to be far above that fray right now, and the A's can aim a lot higher by winning two of three this weekend in Texas.