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.

Report: Pursued by A's, Kurt Suzuki agrees to deal with Nationals


Report: Pursued by A's, Kurt Suzuki agrees to deal with Nationals

It appears the original report on former A's catcher Kurt Suzuki possibly making a return will not come to fruition. 

According to executive reporter Mark Feinsand, the 12-year veteran catcher has agreed to a two-year deal with the Nationals:

The details of the deal, according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, includes two years, $10 million. $4 million in 2019, $6 million in 2020. 

Suzuki spent two seasons with the Nats where he slashed .239/.297/.344 with eight home runs and 50 RBI in 122 games. He was acquired from the A's to Washington in 2012. 

The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser originally reported the 35-year-old was approached by the A's about a possible one-year deal next season after he was granted free agency recently. 

A's free agent signing anniversary: Designated hitter Billy Butler


A's free agent signing anniversary: Designated hitter Billy Butler

On this date four years ago, the A's signed free agent designated hitter Billy Butler to a three-year, $30 million contract.

Butler, who was 28 at the time, had spent his first eight MLB seasons with the Kansas City Royals. His best season came in 2012 when he slashed .313/.373/.510 with a career-high 29 home runs and 107 RBI. He was named an All-Star and won a Silver Slugger.

However, Butler's production did not carry over to Oakland. In 2015, he slashed a career-worst .251/.323/.390 with 15 homers and 65 RBI.

The following season, Butler was involved in the now infamous clubhouse fight with teammate Danny Valencia, sustaining a concussion. The A's would release Butler less than a month later.

[RELATED: A's relsease Billy Butler]

It's safe to say the Butler signing did not work out for Oakland, both on and off the field. While it seemed like a reasonable contract at the time, Butler failed to live up to it in his two seasons with the A's.

The biggest takeaway from the signing has to be the importance of character and personality when it comes to clubhouse chemistry. It's actually quite remarkable that the A's went from literally fighting in the clubhouse to having one of the most cohesive groups in the league in a span of just two years.

When it comes to this offseason, Billy Beane, David Forst, and Bob Melvin understand the significance of the team's chemistry and will be careful not to upset it. Talent and production will certainly factor into their decisions, but so will character.

It's also important to note that offensive production doesn't always carry over between home ballparks. The Coliseum can be a nightmare for power hitters and Butler could never wake up.

Of course, the A's figure to focus primarily on pitching this offseason, which could have the opposite effect. Pitchers who have struggled in other ballparks often find success at the Coliseum (see: Trevor Cahill). That should work in the A's favor.

As for Butler, 2016 marks the last time he played in the majors. Following his release from Oakland, he signed with the Yankees but only played in 12 games. Unfortunately, he will always be remembered for that one clubhouse incident in Oakland.