The St. Louis Cardinals swooped into Oakland for a three-game set against the Athletics this past weekend. The series between two of baseball’s best teams featured some of baseball’s best players this season. Not surprisingly, the result was some pretty darn good baseball.
The A’s took the series by winning Sunday’s rubber game, 7-5. But the two teams were pretty evenly matched throughout the weekend. A likely outcome considering their similar keys to success.
At Sunday’s end, St. Louis left town with the second-best record in the National League, at 49-32. Meanwhile, Oakland pushed its record to 48-35 and kept pace in the American League West, a half-game behind the Texas Rangers.
After two beautifully pitched games on Friday and Saturday, Sunday’s finale was a slugfest and an ug-fest. Five combined home runs. Three errors. A few baserunning miscues. But the A’s walked away victorious to take two of three games from the mighty Cards.
Here are five standout performers for the Athletics during their series versus St. Louis.
The series opener was all about the continued excellence of A’s right-handed starter Bartolo Colon. The veteran went another eight strong innings, allowing only one run on six hits. Colon extended his streak to eight wins in eight consecutive starts, upping his record to a stellar 11-2 mark. He now has nine straight quality starts, a span in which he has allowed one run or fewer five different times. His ERA now stands at 2.79, sixth-best in the AL.
Sunday’s contest was typically efficient for the 40-year-old Colon. He allowed seven baserunners, but erased two of them on double-play grounders. The Cardinals did take advantage of Colon’s lone free pass, scoring their only run when Matt Holliday walked and came around after two consecutive singles.
Aside from that mini-breakdown, Colon was his usual self, getting ahead of the count early and often (22 first-pitch strikes to 29 hitters), making for a rather effortless eight-inning effort. Colon’s handling of a St. Louis lineup that ranks as the top scoring team in the NL and that has scored one run or fewer only eight times this season only added to his remarkable performance.
With each start and each subsequent victory, Colon continues to make a strong push for another All-Star Game nod, which would be his third career selection, but first since 2005. It would be an impressive yet interesting possibility considering his recent individual history. However, there is no denying the fact that the Athletics as a team would not be where they are to this point without the exalted performance of their stellar starter.
By collecting a base hit in each game against the St. Louis Cardinals this past weekend, A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie extended his hitting streak to a career-high nine straight contests, making him the hottest bat in the Oakland lineup.
During the modest streak, Lowrie has gone a combined 16-for-35 (.457 clip), including five multi-hit games, raising his season average 20 points to .309. Against the Cardinals, Lowrie went 4-for-10, including a home run in Sunday’s victory. He now ranks 10th in the AL with a .381 on-base percentage and fourth in doubles (22).
Though he committed his 11th error on the season—his ninth at shortstop—during Sunday’s contest, Lowrie atoned for the miscue by driving in three runs. His 32 runs batted in playing shortstop rank third in the AL at his position. Clearly, Lowrie has given the A’s some positive production from the middle infield that they’ve lacked in recent seasons.
Speaking of streaks, Grant Balfour is knocking on the door of one of the franchise’s more venerable marks: most consecutive saves.
With his perfect ninth-inning appearance on Sunday, Balfour earned his 19th save of the season—his 37th in a row dating back to 2012—three shy of tying A’s legend Dennis Eckersley’s record established in 1992. Though he may not have Eck’s obnoxiously effortless precision, Balfour has been shutting the door in the ninth inning with his own consistent dominance.
Sunday, he shot down the Cardinals’ last-ditch effort on nine pitches and lowered his ERA to 1.97 for the season. He currently ranks seventh in the AL in saves, and he’s making his own case for a selection for the All-Star Game.
Because if he took down a hallowed mark set by a player as decorated as Eck, it’d be no small achievement. So, should he tie or eclipse Eckersley’s saves streak by then, the attention could help vault him to the AL team.
Thirty-seven down, three more to go.
One player who deserves even more All-Star recognition is Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson. The 27-year-old has been Oakland’s most consistent player at the plate and in the field. And this past weekend’s series against St. Louis only padded his worthiness.
Against the Cards, Donaldson went 5-for-9, with three runs scored, two runs batted in, a home run and two doubles. He also walked twice and did not strike out. His bating average currently sits at .316, eighth-best in the AL. He also ranks in the top 10 in RBI, slugging percentage and OPS.
More impressive is his fielding prowess at the hot corner. A handful of web gems during the Cardinals series as a result of the spacious Oakland Coliseum foul territory have Donaldson leading the AL in putouts (70). He has shown his quickness, alertness and athleticism, putting him toward the front of the line when it comes to top fielders at his position.
With more spectacular all-around play like he showcased against the Cards, it will be almost impossible to keep him off the AL All-Star team.
He’s played in only four MLB games this season and has 22 total to his credit. He started his career going 0-for-32. But, boy, did he make his first career hit count.
Stephen Vogt may only be with the A’s right now because John Jaso is injured, but Vogt proved he belongs—at least for this series. The 28-year-old punched his first career hit over the wall for a home run during Friday’s 6-1 Oakland victory. What a great way to break the hitless streak.
It also may’ve broken open the floodgates: Vogt collected his second hit in Sunday’s contest.
The stop-gap until Jaso returns to full health, Vogt has shown an admirable all-around game. Though it’s a small sample size, A’s pitchers have a combined 2.06 ERA in the four games he’s started. Making an impact on the field is extremely important, especially at the catcher position, where the A’s exercise an egregious platoon. Thus, if Jaso remains sidelined, Oakland has a Vogt of confidence in his temporary replacement.
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