A’S KNOW HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE CRITICAL TO PLAYOFF HOPES
Another hurdle cleared. A 4-2 road trip suggests this team felt no hangover effects from last week’s four-game sweep of the Yankees in Oakland. Whew. If anything, the all-for-one, one-for-all Atleticos seemed genuinely buoyed by the conquest of New York, and their deadly mix of stifling pitching and lethal offense resulted in consecutive series wins in Toronto and Baltimore. In the process, Bob Melvin’s boys sped past the Angels and now sit within striking distance of the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers.
If this sounds kind of remarkable to you, it’s only because it is. But when you break it all down, there are many factors at work. Yoenis Cespedes has emerged as a bona fide star, leading the majors in hitting (.443) since the All-Star Break and now giving even the uber-talented Mike Trout a legitimate run for Rookie of the Year honors (I know that sounds ridiculous, considering what Trout has meant to the Halos this season, but take a look at the numbers—the Yo Man is starting to creep up statistically on the odds-on favorite to win the award). Josh Reddick continues to play with reckless abandon in the field and a slew of extra base hits at the plate—this, when not modeling authentic Spider-Man costumes in the clubhouse (no really, I saw it with my own eyes Saturday at Camden Yards). Chris Carter, Brandon Moss and Brandon Inge, proving that batting average can be overrated, have supplied Melvin with plenty of home run and RBI sock at the corner infield positions during this unworldly 18-4 stretch. Coco Crisp has re-emerged as a leadoff force, while switch-hitting compatriot Jemile Weeks showed flashes of his 2011 form over the weekend at both the top and bottom of the lineup. Add Seth Smith, the man who single-handedly drives pitcher’s psyches and pitch counts to extremes before usually ripping a decisive blow, and you can see why our offense averaged 8.5 runs on our road trip. And, of course, our pitching has been a constant all season long. No matter who takes the mound—rookie, veteran, Aussie—you can pretty much write in a quality performance. And while the quintet of Bartolo Colon, Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Travis Blackley have done quite nicely, there are also veteran reinforcements on the way. Opening Day starter Brandon McCarthy, top-of-the-rotation left-hander Brett Anderson and staff leader/perfect game author Dallas Braden are all in various stages of rehab work which should lead to their respective returns in the coming weeks. Sweet music to the ears of all A’s fans!
Yet, the key to this improbable playoff run is the well-worn confines of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Any team with postseason aspirations has to establish and exploit a true home field advantage. That’s something that the A’s new skipper has been preaching ever since he took over the reins in midstream last year. And at the most unexpected moment—a two-out, two-strike, ninth-inning walk-off homer by rookie Derek Norris that salvaged the final game of the Giants series—a seed was planted in Oakland that has sprouted into a magical run for the A’s at the Coliseum. Since that fateful pitch thrown by Santiago Casilla, Melvin’s troops have won 11 of their last 13 games on home soil. And to fuel the fire further, seven of those 11 victories have been of the walk-off variety. Since opening the season with a 10-16 home mark, the A’s have now proceeded to post a blistering 18-5 record at the Coliseum since June 6. In any league, that’s domination at home. Then you consider that 14 of those 18 wins came at the hands of division-leading teams like the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants, plus the then-playoff contending Red Sox, and the legitimacy of Oakland’s home field advantage can no longer be disputed.
Tonight, the A’s christen a 10-game homestand featuring quality opponents in the Rays, Blue Jays and Angels. We certainly hope all A’s fans will frequent the Coliseum often this week and throughout the stretch run. The excitement you collectively created in our past homestand against Texas and New York absolutely played a role in our 5-1 record against the American League favorites. Beyond the next 10 games, the A’s will play 16 of their next 22 games in the Oakland Coliseum. While it will be difficult to duplicate what the team accomplished in July, let’s make August a month of more walk-off thrills and meaningful victories. Together, we might just ride this wave to new, dizzying places that, only three months ago, nobody thought possible. See you at the yard!