Are the A’s about to play the Texas Rangers, their last competition in the American League West title fight, with one arm tied behind their back?
Maybe. The Rangers are scheduled to start two left-handed pitchers, Derek Holland on Friday and Martin Perez on Sunday, against the A’s.
Oakland generally sits lefty cleanup hitter Brandon Moss against left-handed pitchers, and the A’s have had some success doing so. Nate Freiman has had a big year against left-handed pitching at .314 with four homers and 22 RBIs, and Freiman, a right-hander, is the usual starter at first against lefties.
There are times to throw away the numbers, however, and this may be one of them. Moss is an impact player, and more now than ever. The A’s are 13-4 since Aug. 26, going from 2½ games behind Texas to 3½ games in front of the Rangers in that time.
The driving force? Brandon Moss. He’s a .356 hitter in those games with five homers and 17 RBIs, an average of an RBI per game although he’s only starter 13 of those games.
He didn’t play Thursday when the Twins threw lefty Scott Diamond at Oakland and the A’s came away just fine with an 8-2 win. But since Aug. 26, in the limited time Moss has had against lefties, he’s been much better than his .216 season average against them.
Specifically he’s 5-for-10 with two homers and five RBIs.
Moss isn’t going to ask to play against lefties. Ask him, and he’ll say that he hasn’t hit well enough to earn the right and that it’s all about the team winning and “it’s not about whether it’s hard for me to sit and watch.’’
Ask manager Bob Melvin and he’ll say he doesn’t know yet what his lineup will look like. But Moss has stood up and been counted when the A’s needed him to be The Man. A couple of swings from Moss in games Friday or Sunday could be the difference between winning and losing for Oakland.
And the A’s very much need to win to keep the Rangers at bay.
“If I play, I play,’’ Moss said. “This (platooning) is what we’ve done for two years, and it’s worked pretty well. It’s about what we have done, not about what I have done.’’
Moss was slogging along in the minor leagues last June when the A’s pulled him back to the big leagues for one last shot. Since then he’s hit 46 home runs in less than a season and a half, a figure that is tied for the 12th-best total over that stretch in the Major Leagues.
He’s immensely grateful for the chance the A’s have given him.
And that explains, at least in part, why he’s not going to push his case to play.
“When you think of where I was last year and where I am now,’’ he said, “obviously I’m very appreciative of the chance I’ve gotten. I’ve got 100 percent confidence in the team and the (front office) staff to make the right decisions.’’
That’s the company line, too.
But it’s difficult to see the A’s putting their best lineup forward against the Rangers in a series Oakland needs to win and not see Moss a part of it.
–Josh Donaldson says the A’s don’t have to do anything differently against the second-place Rangers this weekend to move closer to another playoff spot.
“Pitching and hitting is what it’s about,’’ the third baseman said. “We’ve done that the majority of the year, and when we have, we’ve done fine.’’
Donaldson was in the lineup at third Thursday less than 20 hours after being hit on the right hand by a pitch. He singled, walked twice and scored a run in five plate trips. Defensively, he made a pair of above-average plays, getting plenty on the throw with his injured right hand.
“At this point of the year,’’ he said, “it’s going to take a lot to get me out of the lineup. It was a little sore, which I expected, but I’m going to play.’’
–Chris Young, who generally plays only against left-handers, got a start against one Thursday and had a double and a triple, although both of the hits came against right-handed relievers.
The two hits got him over .200, all the way to .201, for the first time since May 25, when he was hitting .207. It’s been a tough year for Chris Young.
“I feel like I’ve been swinging well,’’ Young said. “Today some balls found some holes. It’s not about the numbers anymore, not at this point of the season.
“It’s about winning games, just winning games. Our season depends on that.’’
–Grant Balfour, talking before Thursday’s game, said “we aren’t there yet’’ when asked if it was possible he was getting too much time off. Balfour hadn’t pitched since Sept. 6 before throwing the ninth inning Thursday.
After the game the Oakland closer was talking as if the long layoff, his tired arm notwithstanding, was perhaps a little too long.
“I felt good,’’ he said. “But you do need to be out there more consistently to have your command. But it went OK, and I’m ready to go.’’
And he’s looking forward to the three games this weekend against the Rangers.
“I don’t think about three games,’’ he said. “I just think about the next game. Tomorrow is the most important day for us.
“We’ve played well to put ourselves in good position going in. Now it’s up to us to make the most of it.’’