There was quite a bit of anticipation this week as the Oakland Athletics arrived in Arlington, Texas to face the Rangers in a four game series. The A’s were riding high, had a 3 game lead in the AL West, and looked to put some distance between themselves and their rivals. Needless to say it didn’t work out that way. A couple close games went the Rangers’ way, and that 3 game lead that could have been a 5 game lead, is now a 1 game lead. It’s hardly the end of the world though, and if you thought this was going to be easy you were sorely mistaken.
The Texas Rangers did win the American League pennant 2 years in a row, and many members of those teams remain firmly entrenched in their lineup. So while the frustration of not being able to hold down a lead on repeated occasions will be on the minds of players and fans alike, and not being able to come up with that big timely hit to put runs on the board will drive us all mad, the sky is indeed not falling on us.
There are a few reasons for optimism, and a few bright spots hidden within the dark cloud that was this four game set. John Jaso leads the charge, but his productivity goes far beyond just this series. Over Jaso’s 15 games prior to Thursday’s finale, he has hit .340/.443/.480. While Derek Norris has struggled terribly, Jaso has more than solidified his place as the catcher of this team. Whether he begins to get more playing time against lefties remains to be seen as Norris struggles and recovers from his unfortunate foul tip injury from Wednesday’s game. Right now, he deserves it.
Brandon Moss has had an up and down season, and at this point I think he’s just a streaky hitter and will continue to have hot and cold spells throughout his career. While he hasn’t gotten on one of those hot streaks like he enjoyed late in the season last year that helped propel the A’s to the AL West title, he’s proven that his power is legitimate and that even during a cold streak he can go deep any moment.
The likes of Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, and Seth Smith continue to provided consistency throughout the lineup as well. Crisp has served as the igniter of the offense, and often as he goes so do the rest. Lowrie has had one of the best offensive first halves of any shortstop in the American League, and could find himself at least on the fringe of All Star consideration. Seth Smith is perhaps the most under the radar, yet talented player on the Athletics. He never gains much in the way of notoriety, but always seems to come up with the big hits. He did so Thursday afternoon in the 9th inning versus Joe Nathan, the A’s were just unfortunate in that Josh Donaldson was thrown out at home trying to score the tying run. Which brings me to my next point.
The Texas Rangers may have beaten the A’s this time around, but they can’t feel secure with how they accomplished it. Joe Nathan looks beatable, the A’s scored on him in the first game, and very well could have done more damage, and for all intents and purposes he blew the save on Thursday, he was bailed out though by a great relay throw by Elvis Andrus to nab Donaldson. Their starting pitching leaves a bit to be desired, and while the A’s failed to make Justin Grimm or Josh Lindblom pay for any mistakes they made, that won’t happen every time.
Bottom line, this division is going to be a dogfight all the way until the end. I don’t foresee either team distancing themselves from the other, when they meet in Arlington again in September I suspect it will be a massive series. The A’s have proven to be talented enough to repeat as division champions, although they may not have demonstrated it. Who knows what the two teams might have up their sleeves come trade deadline time, perhaps whoever completes the best deal will end up winning the division crown.