The A’s got to a season-best 19 games over .500 (62-43) Sunday, putting them six games up on the second-place Rangers in the American League West.
It was a year ago, or more precisely, 13 months ago, that the then-West leaders and heavy favorites, the Rangers, got to 19 games over .500 for the first time.
They did it, curiously enough, by beating Oakland on June 28, 2012 to land at 48-29. It was the middle game of a five-game winning streak that would see them get to 50-29 on July 31 before the A’s, by that time 13 games down in the standings and in third place stood up.
On July 1, the A’s slapped the Rangers in the face with a 3-1 win behind starting pitcher Travis Blackley, a pitcher who just six weeks earlier had been claimed off waivers from the Giants.
From that point on, the A’s won at a relentless pace, winning almost two-thirds of the time (51-26) while the Rangers were scarcely above .500. Oakland caught Texas on the final day of the season to win the West.
Could it happen in reverse this year?
Well, sure, because the Rangers are only six games back at the end of play on July 28. But consider that at the end of play on July 28 in 2012, the A’s were only 3½ games back after a huge month of July, and it still took Oakland until Game 162 to catch up.
It’s not that the Rangers don’t have enough time to catch Oakland. It’s that they don’t seem to be able to generate and sustain any momentum. Rangers’ manager Ron Washington held a 50-minute closed-door team meeting Sunday.
When he did it earlier in the year, Texas went out generated momentum to be sure, winning nine of its next 11. But the Rangers were completely unable to sustain it, and here they were Sunday meeting again just six weeks later.
The A’s are far from being home free, but they have an advantage this time around that Texas didn’t have last year. The Rangers saw the A’s coming hard for them last July. This July, the A’s have gone from one-half game behind Texas to six games ahead.
The momentum is all Oakland’s.
–Eric Sogard never felt to need to wear contact lenses. And now the fact that he wears glasses has helped create a persona for him.
Well that, and that fact that he’s been among the A’s most reliable hitters of late.
The A’s call it “Nerd Power,’’ every time Sogard gets a big hit, which lately has been often. He had three hits Sunday in a 10-6 win over the Angels, driving in the first run with a double and putting the A’s ahead to stay with a single in a five-run sixth inning.
And “Nerd Power’’ isn’t meant in a disparaging way. It’s a sign of respect, both from his teammates and the A’s fans.
“It wasn’t only today,’’ left fielder Yoenis Cespedes said through interpreter Ariel Prieto. “It’s every day. He’s always ready to play. He always gives a complete effort.’’
After each big Sogard hit, his teammates put their thumbs and forefingers together in an open circle and put it to their eyes as a kid might do to simulate binoculars. His teammates see Sogard doing big things.
“It’s fun; I enjoy all the nicknames,’’ Sogard said. “Obviously wearing glasses kind of attracts a little attention there, but it’s exciting to have those fans out there. They’re the best fans.’’
With his performance Sunday, Sogard has a seven-game hitting streak. He’s 11-for-17 (.407) since the All-Star break to lift his average to .272. And 10 of his last 18 hits have been for extra bases.
Manager Bob Melvin said this is akin to the way Sogard hit the ball in spring training when he had to win a roster spot as a longshot.
Sogard also looks back to spring training.
“Over the (All-Star) break, I just kind of wanted to hit that reset button,’’ he said, “and kind of just go back to finding that spring training swing that I had. Not trying to do too much.
“And from the first at-bat I’ve felt really comfortable out there, seeing the ball really well and just having fun.’’
The A’s, if they make a trade deadline move for a position player, would likely focus on second base. But clearly they have to respect what Sogard has been doing. He’s one of the reasons they are six games up in the West.
“It feels great,’’ Sogard said. “We’re going to continue to look at it one game at a time, continue to put wins under our belt and just keep going at it.’’
Call it the Nerd Power mantra.