One game behind Astros, A's are officially the new item on the national menu

One game behind Astros, A's are officially the new item on the national menu

Now that people are watching the Oakland Athletics (and no, this is not yet another attendance story so you can stop choking the cat) with greater intent, one would imagine that the scrutiny might start to wear on the employees a bit. The A’s have been untouched by the glares of the outside world for so long that this newfound attraction to the rest of the baseball world would start to get a bit claustrophobic.

Well, they’re 38-12 after Tuesday’s nightly Treinen-O-Rama, and since people started paying attention with regularity. Since being swept by Colorado, they are 11-2, and have gone from this:

Boston 74 33 .692 ------ 569 392
Houston 67 40 .626 7 533 354
Cleveland 57 47 .548 15.5 537 443
New York   67 37 .644 5.5 540 404
Seattle 62 43 .590 11 445 448
Oakland     61 46 .570 13 505 472

To this:

Boston 86 35 .711 ------   661 447
Houston 73 47 .608 12.5 583 392
Cleveland 68 51 .571 17 612 482
New York 75 44 .630 10 617 477
Oakland 72 48 .600 13.5 571 504
Seattle 69 52 .570 17 507 531

To sum up that mess, Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Seattle (an altogether tidier affair than Monday’s 7-6 piefight) puts Oakland only one game out of the West Division lead and therefore second place in the American League, 3½ games out of the first wild card spot and 3½ games ahead of the cutoff line.

They are, in other words, in three races at once, and now people in Houston and New York and Seattle and Cleveland are watching them as well. They are officially the new item on the national menu.

And with that level of intrusion, they are about to find out how much of this attention they have craved so long is going to be to their liking.

Attention, after all, comes in many ways – demands on their time from the media, increased scrutiny on all developments from managerial moves to bat flips, and a torrent of occasionally helpful suggestions from on high.

In other words, people are talking A’s, and the A’s, being young and new to the froth and effervescence of multiple pennant races, are bound to listen. I mean, their phones are always charged, if you get the drift.

“But that’s why I tell them in the meeting before every series that we have to pay attention to what’s in front of us today,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We can’t get caught up in the trap -- answering all the other questions about the other teams and where we are in relation to them, and the playoff races and all that. I emphasize it every chance I get, and after that I just have to trust that everyone in the room gets it.”

That’s a lot of trust for a manager, which is why he relies on veterans like catcher Jonathan Lucroy and second baseman Jed Lowrie, and the quietly influential left fielder Chad Pinder to reinforce the walls that keep the barking dogs at a healthy distance.

“I don’t know for sure how we’ll handle everything going forward, but I’m confident that we’ll handle it the right way,” Melvin said. “We have good guys in that room, and even though this is all pretty new to them, them getting distracted and ahead of themselves really isn’t a concern of ours. We’ve had to stay pretty focused to get to this point; I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that we were 12 back (well, 11½ as recently as  June 17, if you must be pedantic about it), so there are going to more people trying to get them to talk about this team and that situation now. I just think it won’t be a problem.”

Well, there are 42 opportunities still ahead for the A’s to prove Melvin right or wrong; for the now, though, there is only the now. They win their game each day and watch objects once beyond the horizon heave 
into view. Part of the fun of the next six weeks is finding out whether they absorb the view and make just part of their daily routine, or end up overwhelmed by the hugeness of the vista and end up with vertigo.

POLL: A's Memorable Moments -- Sweeping '89 WS vs Winning '74 WS


POLL: A's Memorable Moments -- Sweeping '89 WS vs Winning '74 WS

PROGRAMMING NOTE: NBC Sports California is looking back at the A's 50 Memorable Moments since the franchise relocated to Oakland in 1968. Below are the next two moments you can vote on. Tune into A's Pregame Live today at 6:30 p.m. to watch highlights of the two moments. After the A's and Twins conclude on Friday, tune into A's Postgame Live to see which moment emerges as champion!

1. A's sweep Giants in 1989 Earthquake World Series (Three-time winner -- Defeated Winning 1973 World Series)

(From 1989 World Series MVP Dave Stewart)

Fortunate for us, we played the Giants a lot in spring training, and we beat the crap out of them in spring training, so we were real comfortable playing against them.

I knew I was going to be the Game 1 starter, and I wanted to give it my best shot and put my best foot forward. i ended up shutting them out, then Mike Moore comes back the next night and we end up beating them in Game 2. Then we have the 10-day layoff because of the earthquake. We go to Arizona, we find out we're going to start playing again, and Tony (La Russa) gives me the news that we're going to go Game 3 and Game 4 with the same guys we started with, which I was glad to hear.

Game 3, I pitched extremely well again, deep in the game and then we swept them the next game. So to win the MVP, I really had mixed emotions about it because Rickey Henderson played really, really well, putting on an offensive show for the whole World Series. And Rickey and I are best friends and I had said in the postgame interview that i would split the trophy with Rickey because we both played well.

After everything that had happened with the earthquake, I was pretty involved with the rescue missions too. It was one ball of emotions, wininng (the World Series), being from the Bay Area, the earthquake, helping out with the rescue missions, it was just a really, really good feeling.

There was a while lot of crap talking going on before the series. I remember the mayor of San Francisco saying that we weren't even worthy of being in the World Series. That kind of lit the fire.

I think the Giants would say it if they were being honest, they knew we were the better team coming in there, so coming in and beat the Giants, we expected to do it and there was pleasure in doing it because we really showed who was the best team in the Bay Area.


2. A's go back-to-back-to-back in 1974 and win third straight World Series 

(From then-A's catcher Ray Fosse)


Stephen Piscotty's case for AL Comeback Player of the Year honors


Stephen Piscotty's case for AL Comeback Player of the Year honors

Contrary to popular belief, MLB's Comeback Player of the Year Award is not reserved solely for players returning from injury. The award simply goes to the American League and National League players who have best “re-emerged on the baseball field during a given season.”

By that definition (and with a nod to Brodie Brazil for the inspiration), A's outfielder Stephen Piscotty deserves serious consideration.

In 2016, Piscotty slashed .273/.343/.457 with 22 home runs, 35 doubles, 85 RBI, and 3.0 WAR as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The following May, his mother Gretchen was diagnosed with ALS, and baseball was suddenly an afterthought. Understandably, Piscotty's numbers dipped in 2017, as he slashed .235/.342/.367 with just nine home runs, 16 doubles, 39 RBI, and 0.6 WAR. How he even put up those stats, given what he was going through, is incredible.

Following the 2017 season, the Cardinals and A's combined to create one of the most heartwarming sports stories in recent memory, agreeing to a trade that would bring Piscotty home to Northern California so he could care for his mother and be with his family. Sadly, Gretchen passed away in May of 2018 at the age of 55.

After grieving for his mother and celebrating her life, Piscotty has been able to refocus on baseball and find a rhythm with the A's. And it has shown. The 27-year-old is slashing .265/.321/.481, setting career-highs with 24 home runs and 39 doubles, along with 76 RBI and 2.1 WAR.

That's an increase of 15 home runs and 23 doubles from 2017 to 2018, and the season is not over yet. Even more impressive, Piscotty has hit 21 home runs since June 13, third most in the American League. He has also played excellent defense in right field, making numerous highlight reel catches throughout the season.

There are certainly other qualified candidates in the AL, including Gerrit Cole, David Price, and Matt Duffy. Cole has improved his ERA from 4.26 last season to 2.88 this year. Price has recovered from elbow troubles to go 15-6 with a 3.42 ERA. Duffy is hitting .297 after missing all of last season.

But none of them have been through what Piscotty has. Throughout this entire devastating period, he has shown tremendous poise and mental toughness. A's manager Bob Melvin has said Piscotty has an angel on his shoulders now. Based on his performance, that's hard to argue.