The good fortune and magic that led one Bay Area team to two unlikely World Series titles in the past three years seems to have crossed the waters and settled back on the traditionally, more-successful eastern shore of professional baseball in the region.
While the defending champion San Francisco Giants scuffled to three straight one-run losses to the Chicago Cubs at AT&T Park in the snobbiest city in the country, the Oakland Athletics won three of four against the high-payroll Los Angeles Angels at the ancient and decrepit O.co Coliseum.
In all likelihood, the Giants won’t be defending their World Series title, failing again to finish consecutive seasons in first place (something they haven’t done since 1937, by the way). The S.F. record (46-58, ten games out) is a product of the team’s inability to come through in close games (15-16 this season, in one-run games).
After years of excellence in that area, a combined 25 games over .500 in that all-important category that makes or breaks a season since 2010, the Giants are now out of such luck.
And the A’s have it now, in abundance.
Oakland is 16 games over .500 in these close games since the start of 2012, reversing a 10-games-under-.500 mark compiled during the 2009-2011 seasons.
Is it any wonder the A’s are now 62-43 this season, six games up in the American League West division and perhaps on their way to a second straight division title?
Sure, none of the games against the Angels over the weekend qualified as a “close game”, but Oakland did come from behind on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to win games Los Angeles desperately needed to stay relevant in 2013.
The A’s trailed 2-0 early on Friday before winning 6-4. They were behind 1-0 late on Saturday until a seventh-inning catapulted them to a 3-1 victory. And Sunday was perhaps most impressive: the A’s fell behind twice (5-0 after two innings, and 6-5 in the sixth), but they came back to win, 10-6.
That resilience has been on display for awhile now in Oakland, and while the Giants obviously rode the same intangible fortune to the World Series win last year, the “it” factor seems to be solely in the East Bay this year.
A team need a few things to win more close games than you lose: an excellent bullpen and multiple hitters deliver better in the late innings than they do in the early ones.
Even when you struggle in games early at the play and on the mound, these capabilities make anything possible. The A’s have made a habit of erasing large deficits this year, even though they don’t often find themselves down and out.
Oakland now hosts Toronto for three games, and after an off day on Thursday, the Texas Rangers come to town for three games this weekend. With wins in four or five of these games this week, the A’s will be that much closer to securing a second straight AL West division crown.
On the wings of good fortune, blowing in the wind, perhaps.