‘We’re in this to win the World Series’: After sweeping the Yankees, the Athletics are thinking bigger than wild card

The Athletics won six of their last seven games against the Astros and Yankees

Oakland Athletics catcher Josh Phegley (19) shakes hands with Oakland Athletics pitcher Joakim Soria (48) after the last out in the ninth inning of their MLB game at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. The Oakland Athletics defeated the New York Yankees 5-3. The Oakland Athletics have swept the Yankees during this home stand. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
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OAKLAND — Late August is too early to scoreboard watch, right?

After the A’s swept the Yankees in three games — clinching it Thursday night with a 5-3 victory — and took three-of-four from the Houston Astros, we’ll allow a quick peek.

The Cleveland Indians, once in firm grasp of the American League wild card’s first spot, fell off the top two marks after losing its third game in a row. The Tampa Bay Rays, on a two-game win streak, sit in that second spot. And, yes, there the Athletics sit atop sudden-death’s throne, a seat they deserved to take following an utterly dominant home stand against two teams with the two best records in the American League.

But clinging to the threads of a potential wild card berth just won’t cut it. This team is playing its best baseball at the perfect time. Why not cast a wider net?

“We’re not in this to slip into the wild card and play a wild card game, we’re in this to win the World Series,” Mark Canha said. “We’re going to have to play our best baseball the rest of the season, anyway, and that’s what you have to do to win the World Series.”

At their best, the A’s deflate their opposition in a variety of ways. Against both teams, they out-slugged, erased deficits, out small-balled and straight dominated.

Death by RBI single, with some leadoff doubles and triples, secured the A’s sweeper on Thursday.

A different looking crew seems to pull out the stops every night: Robbie Grossman, Stephen Piscotty and Marcus Semien got to Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka early and often to give the A’s a 3-0 lead in the first, a 5-0 lead by the third that New York’s mighty lineup just couldn’t chip into despite Gleyber Torres’ two home run, two double night.

Range on offense is juxtaposed, shockingly, by consistency on the mound. The A’s trade deadline acquisitions have helped flatline once erratic spells of opposing team offensive outbursts and comebacks.

Tanner Roark settled in quickly as more than just an innings eater. Thursday he worked his fastball all around the zone, especially up — with two-seamer against lefties — to keep the Yankees at two earned runs over 6 1/3 innings. He issued no free passes, notably, and struck out seven.

There’s something behind that zero walk, seven strikeout line. He’s fearless. Maybe it’s just a callous built up through experience, but Roark is not afraid to challenge the best of them.

“You limit (walks), you challenge guys, and that’s what I think I do well, is challenging guys,” he said. “Like (Aaron) Judge, 3-1 fastball, let’s see what he can do, you know?”

And the bullpen is congealing, too. Don’t forget about Jake Diekman. Despite not getting the strikeout numbers as advertised — he has six strikeouts in 11 appearances — he got left-handers Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford out to bring Roark’s final inning to a close. Diekman’s allowed just one run over his last eight appearances, and is someone that could eat entire innings as well as act as a lefty specialist.

“We’ve seen it that on our side where he can be just as tough on righties as he is on lefties,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s tough, deceptive, got a funky arm slot.”

Highlight-worthy plays are aplenty with Matt Chapman and Matt Olson putting on shows both on defense and offense, but little things are adding up, too.

That’s mostly why this team is playing its best baseball of the year, and why it might be OK to start counting down and peek at that Tampa Bay Rays score every once in a while.

 

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