They didn’t have a good enough bullpen, and won a lot of those games. And so they rebuilt their bullpen.
They didn’t have a high-end rotation, and won a lot of those games, too. And then they carried their best pitcher from a ballpark in Boston, gone until spring. They won that game and then the next.
Their biggest investments didn’t exactly produce the way they’d hoped, and they won a lot anyway, more than anyone else. More to the point, they won more than the Oakland A’s.
The Los Angeles Angels boarded their flight out of Boston as Thursday night turned to Friday morning. They headed to Oakland to see the A’s, the best team in the AL West, maybe the best team in the game, the team they lead in the standings by two games.
There hasn’t been much in the way of order to the Angels’ summer, beyond the fact Mike Trout is again running with the league MVP favorites and most nights end with them winning. The A’s would understand. They are, after all, the ones chasing a third consecutive AL West title, the ones who have replaced the Angels (and the Texas Rangers) as the beasts of the division. They are the ones with a roster that leads not with who they are but how they play.
The A’s have been doing it for years. The Angels appear to have caught on.
They’ll play three in Oakland this weekend, take three days to compose themselves, then play four next week against the A’s in Anaheim. That’s seven games in 10 days, A’s vs. Angels and, not that it much matters come a first pitch at the Coliseum in late August, Moneyballers vs. Money-baggers.
By the end of next weekend, the Angels will have seen Jon Lester twice, Scott Kazmir twice, Jeff Samardzija and Sonny Gray once each. The A’s will get Jered Weaver twice, quite possibly Wade LeBlanc once, and Garrett Richards zero times.
Yet, in an all-in summer, it is the A’s who arrive having lost eight of 10, having gone from four games ahead of the Angels to two games behind them in a week-and-a-half; the A’s who traded their cleanup hitter at the trading deadline and have batted .226 since. It is the Angels who’d redeye west – c’mon, nobody redeyes west – having won eight of nine, and whose best player in August has been – well, well – Albert Pujols.
Bottom line, it is the A’s who play to catch the Angels and reorganize their season, who get three at home after Thursday off, who’ve already beaten the Angels in six-of-nine and haven’t lost a season series to the Angels in four years. While there are no absolutes in August, the A’s have the most to lose in the coming 10 days. They added an ace, in Lester, three weeks before the Angels lost theirs, Richards. They added Samardzija, a 1B ace, a little more than three weeks before Angels lefty Tyler Skaggs threw his final pitch of the season; Skaggs would undergo Tommy John surgery.
Since the A’s acquired Samardzija and Lester, the series – and the borderline rivalry – is not the battle of organizational philosophies it once was. The A’s did have seven All-Stars. Still, there was a wonderful moment in Minneapolis on the day of the All-Star Game that furthered the A’s reputation as somewhat anonymous overachievers.
Brandon Moss was at his locker in the home clubhouse. A’s teammate Josh Donaldson was in the next locker. Moss had kicked around the game some, measured his baseball mortality in his late 20s, wondered if he had a place in the sport anymore. Now he was an All-Star. He said it was good to be there, to be recognized, to have traveled such a distance. Heck, he said with a grin and some embarrassment, people sort of know who he is now.
The smile was still proudly on his face when a public relations man approached and offered his hand.
“Hey, Josh,” the guy said. “Can we get you over here for a second?”
“I’m Brandon,” Moss said and jerked his head to the right. “This is Josh.”
Moss burst into laughter.
Through it all, the A’s are still the A’s. That’s a good thing. Only, it looks like the Angels are the Angels again, too. This is where it gets interesting.
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