OAKLAND, Calif. — Third baseman Josh Donaldson sees plenty of similarities between this Oakland team and the one that stunned the Texas Rangers on the season’s final day last fall.
A year after the Athletics made their remarkable turnaround and push to a surprising AL West title, the defending division champions are on a roll again.
“It’s contagious, winning, you know? It’s about confidence,” closer Grant Balfour said. “You see a guy get a big hit and the next guy comes up and does his job.”
Though Oakland (38-27) dropped the final two games of its seven-game road trip in Chicago, the A’s have won seven of 10 and 18 of 23.
They entered Monday a half-game back in the AL West race behind Texas (37-25).
Less than three weeks ago, things didn’t look so good. The A’s returned from a rough 3-7 road trip and lost for the eighth time in 10 games in a 3-1 defeat to the Rangers on May 22.
Oakland then rattled off a five-game winning streak that featured a three-game sweep at Houston and won the first three in a four-game Bay Bridge Series against the 2012 World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
Significant progress by the starting pitchers has been a big part of the recent run.
“Earlier in the season, the offense was ruling the day, we were scoring a lot of runs and making up for the ERA as a team we’re not used to looking at,” manager Bob Melvin said. “All of a sudden, you come into closer games and we’re giving up some runs earlier in the game and it’s a little different story.”
In those tight games, Oakland is showing some of the late-game magic that helped define last year’s special season, when the A’s became the first team in major league history to win a division or pennant after trailing
by five games with less than 10 to play.
Adam Rosales hit a two-out homer in the 10th inning of a 5-4 win over the White Sox in Chicago on Thursday night. On May 17, he hit a go-ahead shot leading off the eighth inning of a 2-1 home victory over Kansas City.
Oakland has 10 wins in games decided in the final at-bat.
Balfour is perfect through 15 save chances this year and has 33 in a row going back to April 29, 2012, at Baltimore. He is the only closer in the American League without a blown save this season.
Oakland’s starting pitchers have allowed one run or fewer in 11 of their past 23 games, going 13-3 during that stretch.
“You can’t say enough about these guys and the work they put in,” catcher Derek Norris said. “Sum it up to Oakland A’s baseball. This is what we do well — we have a good starting rotation, scratch a couple runs across and close the door with our bullpen. That’s what we strive to be, and we’re doing a great job of it.”
Balfour and his bullpen mates sure enjoy watching the starters, then backing them up in the late innings.
In three recent home games against the White Sox, Oakland held Chicago to three total runs with two shutouts.
“You couldn’t ask for any more than that,” Balfour said. “It’s awesome to watch.”