Oakland finished the first half of the season two games ahead of Texas. Now the Rangers hold a three-game lead. Even more frightening, the Rangers are two wins away from having the best record in baseball.
Still, A's fans should welcome September with open arms. Here's why.
August might have been the team's most challenging month. It faced top-tier teams such as the Rangers, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles and Tigers. Then it finish August against the Tampa Bay Rays.
If this truly is Oakland's roughest month, it did a good job of finishing 12-12 through Aug. 29.
Sure, the Rangers are 19-6.
But if we just look at the final full series of August, there's a better comparison to be had. The A's beat the Tigers in three out of four, outscoring the Tigers 34-20. The same defending-AL-Central-rotation-full-of-studs Tigers.
The Rangers swept the Seattle Mariners 24-10. Impressive, but the Mariners are no Tigers. And the Rangers are supposed to be better than the A's.
If Oakland can put up a good fight against yet another solid team, the Rays, it'll be rolling into the final month.
The A's are beating good teams, handily, and the offense is heating up at the perfect time.
Finally, with the return of Brett Anderson and Bartolo Colon, the A's will have seven starters to choose from down the stretch. Not many teams have the luxury of having so much depth to fall back on.
All of these things combined can turn short-term momentum into long-term success.
An Easier Schedule
If August was the hardest month, September might be Oakland's easiest.
First there's a series against those same previously mentioned Rangers. There's no better way to gain ground than to beat the team directly in front of you in the standings. And the A's get six against them.
Then there are four against the Houston Astros, against whom the A's are 12-3. Next up are the 57-75 Twins. Oakland gets them seven times in September. Throw in six against the Los Angeles Angels and the A's are in good shape.
They haven't done well against Seattle this year, but they'll finish the season with three games against a (currently) 59-73 team.
It isn't terribly difficult, but the A's have an easier road.
Chase Mode vs. Hang On
Like it's straight out of WWE programming, the "underdog" competitor is in chase mode for the title, while the powerhouse owner looks to distance itself as quickly as possible.
There's a different mindset when you're in chase mode. You rally. You're scrappy. You do everything humanely possible to win. And sometimes magic and luck help. When you're at the top with a small lead, everything you do wrong is scrutinized. There's pressure.
See, the Rangers have a dangerous habit of faltering late.
In 2010, they made it to the World Series, but got pummeled in five games. Next season saw worse fortune. One strike away from a World Series win in Game 6, the Rangers blew it. They'd regain the lead and be down to one strike away from a win once more in the 10th, but once more imploded.
Implosion in 2010. Worse implosion in 2011. Then there was 2012.
At the end of June, the Rangers held a 13-game lead. With 10 games to go, the A's were still five games behind—improvement for them, but hope still looked grim. Yet for the third consecutive year, the Rangers collapsed, and the A's took the AL West from them on the last day of the season.
Now it's 2013. The A's are three games back with just over a month to go, and even sports talk radio hosts in Texas are starting to think about it.
Rangers always seem to be on verge of collapse— Chip Howard (@ChipSportsTalk) August 25, 2013
If you're into wrestling or underdog stories, you probably have an idea where this is going. Maybe that's not your cup of tea. But if you're a baseball fan, you've still seen this ending already...
...three times in a row.
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