Athletics

The numbers behind this incredible stretch of baseball from the A's

The numbers behind this incredible stretch of baseball from the A's

If you haven't noticed that the A's are the hottest team in baseball, you're probably living on Mars.

On Thursday, they rallied from a 4-0 deficit to beat the Astros, taking three of four from the defending World Series champs.

The A's currently sit at 53-41 as they get set to face the Giants in the first three games of the Bay Bridge Series this weekend in San Francisco. They trail the Astros by 8 games in the AL West and trail the Mariners by 5.5 games for the second AL Wild Card spot.

They own a better record than the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians (50-41 entering Thursday). They own the seventh best record in all of baseball.

Since June 16th, the A's are an MLB-best 19-5.

Over their last eight series, the A's are 7-0-1.

The A's are playing well away from the Coliseum as well. With a 29-20 record, they have the third-most wins away from home among all teams in baseball behind the Red Sox (34-17) and the Astros (32-14).

A's rookie outfielder Nick Martini making the most of his opportunity in Oakland

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A's rookie outfielder Nick Martini making the most of his opportunity in Oakland

OAKLAND -- It's been a long wait for Nick Martini. The 28-year-old outfielder spent his first seven seasons in the minor leagues before finally getting his shot in the majors this year with the A's.

“It was definitely tough,” Martini admitted. “Especially when you see other people pass you. But those are things you can't really control, so I just had to keep taking it day by day.”

Martini was drafted in the seventh round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011. He put together some productive seasons in the minors, including a .303/.394/.436 slash line last year in Triple-A, but he never got that coveted call-up.

Martini elected for free agency after the 2017 season and signed with Oakland in November, hoping to prove himself worthy of a big-league opportunity.

“I knew this was an organization that gave people chances,” he said. “They seemed like they were excited about having me, so I was excited to be here.”

That chance came in June, when the A's called Martini up from Triple-A Nashville. All he has done since then is slash .302/.416/.444, taking over the leadoff spot against right-handed pitchers.

“He's been fantastic,” said A's manager Bob Melvin. “He's a tough kid. He's been in the minor leagues for awhile, and just keeps grinding away.”

“I'm having a lot of fun,” Martini smiled. “I played in the minor leagues for seven years. That's a long time. I had some good years in the minor leagues, just never got a chance. I'm thankful for this opportunity.”

Martini's .416 on-base percentage ranked third in the American League, among hitters with at least 60 at-bats entering Friday. But getting on base is nothing new for the speedy left-hander. At Kansas State University, Martini reached base safely in an NCAA Division I record 93 consecutive games. This season in Triple-A, he reached base safely in 65 straight games, a Pacific Coast League record.

“I take a lot of pride in (getting on base),” Martini said. “I know I'm not going to be a guy who hits 30 homers, so I've got to see some pitches and try to get on base as much as I can.”

“He has a very advanced approach,” Melvin assessed. “He's not afraid to get behind in the count or take a couple of pitches. You like that from a guy who's leading off. He can get two-strike hits, has a short stroke, and uses the whole field.”

Martini credits his teammates for helping make his transition to the big leagues a smooth one.

“I think since day one, they've welcomed me with open arms. It's been an exciting run so far.”

A's three keys to beating Astros in pivotal AL West weekend series

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A's three keys to beating Astros in pivotal AL West weekend series

It's only August, but this has the feeling of a playoff series: The defending World Series champion Houston Astros come to town just two games ahead of the red-hot Athletics in the American League West.

An A's sweep would put them in sole possession of first place for the first time all season. On the other hand, an Astros sweep would give them some breathing room at the top.

Here are three keys for the A's to take this weekend's pivotal series at the Coliseum.

1. Continued success from the starting rotation

Remember when the A's starting pitching was supposed to be a major weakness? Well, Oakland's starters have gone 8-1 with a 1.84 ERA in the last 14 games.

Now there's no way the A's will be able to keep up that type of pace, but each starter's goal this weekend should be six or more innings, allowing two runs or fewer. At that point, it's up to the offense to provide run support, and the bullpen to shut it down in the late innings. That's been the A's recipe for success the last two months, and there's no reason to believe that will change.

With Astros outfielder George Springer expected to come off the DL on Friday, and reigning AL MVP José Altuve also close to returning, Oakland's starters will have to be at their best.

2. Situational hitting

The A's certainly don't lack power, but at times, they struggle to have productive at-bats. Take Wednesday's 2-0 extra inning loss to the Mariners as an example. In the fourth inning, the A's put runners on the corners with nobody out, but they failed to score.

The A's tend to rely on the long ball to score runs, and that usually serves them well. But against an elite team like the Astros, where the margin for error will be razor thin, the A's must find a way to cash in on their opportunities. Driving in runners from third with less than two outs will be crucial. Those are the types of at-bats that can take an already stellar lineup to the next level.

3. Stay in the moment

It's fine for fans, and even the media, to get overly worked up about this series. It's what we do. But for the players, especially the younger ones, it will be important to manage emotions.

Of course, there will be some added energy from the atmosphere and national spotlight, but too much adrenaline can be a detriment. The A's have played loose all season long. They genuinely have fun playing together, which has been one of the major reasons for their success. Manager Bob Melvin has done a tremendous job keeping his team focused and level-headed, especially through this incredible 50-game stretch. There's no reason to believe that mentality won't continue this weekend.

Series schedule

Friday: Edwin Jackson (4-2, 2.48) vs. Charlie Morton (12-3, 2.88), 7:05 p.m.

--- Khris Davis career vs. Morton: 3-12, 2 HR
--- Marwin González career vs. Jackson: 3-7, HR, 2B

Saturday: Trevor Cahill (4-2, 3.39) vs. Dallas Keuchel (9-9, 3.43), 1:05 p.m.

--- Matt Chapman career vs. Keuchel: 4-9, 2 HR, 2 2B
--- Yuli Gurriel career vs. Cahill: 3-6, HR, 2B

Sunday: Sean Manaea (11-8, 3.44) vs. Justin Verlander (11-8, 2.52), 1:05 p.m.

--- Khris Davis career vs. Verlander: 3-8, 2 HR, 2B
--- Alex Bregman career vs. Manaea: 4-17, 3 HR