OAKLAND, Calif.--It took awhile, but August is starting to look a little more like June and July to the Oakland A's.
With a 9-4 win over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday night the A's have put together a streak of six or more games with five or more wins for the fourth time in the last nine weeks. Taken individually those aren't big streaks, but when put in combination they lead to a major league-best 72-44 record and a four-game lead in the American League West.
After having hit something of a dry spell against the Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals, Oakland has won five of its last six to get to a season-best 28 games over .500. From May 30-June 6 the A's went 6-1. From June 14-21, the record was 7-1. From July 3-8, it was a perfect 6-0. Those are the building blocks of a monster season.
Jeff Samardzija, making his seventh start since being acquired from the Chicago Cubs, ran his Oakland record to 3-1 with six innings during which he pitched with men on base most of the time.
He was up to that challenge, however, allowing only an RBI single to Trevor Plouffe in the first inning and a run-scoring Plouffe grounder in the fifth. In three of his six innings Samardzija left two men on base and only once did he have a 1-2-3 inning.
By the time he left the game, the A's lead was at 9-2 thanks to an outbreak of walks early in the game. It was at 9-4 after the eighth inning, which was notable in that the A's bullpen record of scoreless innings ended at 30 when Dan Otero gave up a couple of runs.
The A's have had a difficult time scoring runs for Samardzija. They'd scored two or fewer while he's been in the game in his first six starts, a pattern that started when he was with the Cubs, who scored two or fewer in 11 of the 17 Chicago games he'd started.
Oakland's offense put up some early offense, much of it thanks to Minnesota starter Trevor May, a 6-foot-5, 24-year-old with a big arm and a promising future. May's debut saw him walk nine of the first 18 batters he faced, and the A's jumped on that for four runs in the first two innings after Samardzija had given up a run in the first to start things off.
The walks affected all of the A's first four runs. Sam Fuld singled and Josh Donaldson doubled with one out in the first before Brandon Moss walked to load the bases and Derek Norris walked to force in the tying run.
But the walk parade didn't really get going until May had gotten two quick outs in the second. His control short circuited at that point, and he walked the next here men he faced, loading the bases for Donaldson, who ripped a first-pitch single good for two runs. Moss and Norris both again walked, and that brought home an additional run for a 4-1 lead.
May, a fourth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies back in 2008, was done after that. Oakland was held relatively at bay by Samuel Deduno for a couple of innings. That was enough for the Twins to get a bit close on Danny Santana leadoff double that set up Plouffe's run-scoring grounder in the fifth.
With Deduno still on the mound, Josh Reddick opened the fifth with a bunt single to beat the shift, then one out later Stephen Vogt delivered his seventh homer, a two-run shot, and the A's saw their lead stretched to four runs at 6-2.
An inning later Donaldson was hit by a pitch and Moss singled before Derek Norris turned in another of his big-play swings with his 10th homer, a three-run blast. Seven of Norris's 10 homers this year and 10 of his 26 career homers have come with either two or three men on base.
--The A's have won their last 12 games against the Twins dating back to last year. It's the longest streak ever for Oakland vs. Minnesota.
--After never having walked more than twice in a game all season, Eric Sogard drew walks in first four trips to the plate Saturday.
--Outfielder Craig Gentry, eligible to come off the disabled list Tuesday, has a broken right hand that is going to take longer to heal than a 15-day day stay on the DL. "He's just throwing right now," manager Bob Melvin said. "He tried to grip a bat the other day and it didn't go so well."
--Infielder Nick Punto is still being held back by his hamstring injury. Unable to do any baseball activities, he won't go with the team to Kansas City after Sunday's games. , not eligible to come back from the disabled list until the start of the next homestand Aug. 19, has been impacted by his hamstring injury enough that he's not doing any baseball activities. That means he won't be on the plane when the A's fly to Kansas City after Sunday's game with the Twins and that he won't be ready when he's eligible. "He's kind of going through that period where he's trying to work through the stiffness, the tightness that he has," Melvin said. "He's not near baseball activity at this point."
--Terry Steinbach, who was a rookie with the A's in 1987, Tony La Russa's first full season managing in Oakland, was behind the plate to catch La Russa's first pitch on Tony La Russa Bobblehead Night at the Coliseum Saturday. It's unusual to have someone from the visiting team catch the ceremonial throw, but this was deemed appropriate with Steinbach having been the A's primary catcher for almost La Russa's entire tenure as manager. "It's unusual, but the Twins didn't have a problem with it," Steinbach said. "It'll be fun. I think if I have to get into a catcher's crouch, though, I may be looking at making a workman's comp claim."
--The A's were still talking about the double play started by Josh Donaldson in the top of the fifth inning Friday of what was at that point still a scoreless game. The third baseman made a diving stop of a bullet hit by the Twins' Kurt Suzuki, jumped up and fired off a throw that second baseman Eric Sogard would turn for two outs to end the inning. "When the ball is hit, you are thinking of it being down in the corner," Melvin said. "Now all of a sudden it turns into two (outs). There aren't many third basemen who are going to make that play. And to get up and throw it perfectly, and Sogard making a great turn, that was huge as far as the game went."
--First baseman/outfielder Kyle Blanks started his injury rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Sacramento Saturday. The plan will call for his to be there at least a week as he recovers from the left calf strain that has already cost him 40 games. He will get a couple of starts as the first baseman, a couple more as the DH and two in the outfield.
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