OAKLAND — Monday began with Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin and starting pitcher Sean Manaea manning the phones and selling A’s membership plans for 2019 at the team’s offices in Jack London Square. Melvin, a favorite for the American League Manager of the Year award, wasn’t sure if he had a future in ticket sales — “I might need it at some point,” he said — but, he noted, he did make a dent.
“I did get to bang the gong,” Melvin said, sitting in the dugout — a much more familiar venue — before the A’s hosted the Texas Rangers. “I did make a sale, so I’m expecting a bit of a commission for that.”
Melvin’s team has been doing the selling where it counts, going 40-14 over their last 54 games, including two of three this past weekend against the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros. It’s one of the reasons that 2019 A’s Access membership plans — the team announced that they’re doing away with traditional season tickets next year — have already out-sold 2018 season ticket plans, according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser.
Oakland is one game back of the Astros for the AL West lead, and are four games back of the New York Yankees for the first Wild Card. As it stands, they’d make the playoffs if they started today, 3 1/2 games ahead of the Seattle Mariners for the second Wild Card slot. Oakland plays 10 of its next 14 games against AL West opponents, including six against Seattle and Houston.
“We’re less than 40 games [left] now,” Melvin said. “Every series I get asked the importance of this series. Every series is important now. As we go along, I’m going to get the same questions, once we leave on the road, once we get to Houston again, when we play Seattle. So, it literally is, with less than 40 games left, a sprint. Every game has the same importance. No game’s more important than today.”
Before dealing with the Mariners and Astros again, the A’s face the Texas Rangers (56-70), who sit in last place in the AL West. On Monday, Texas will start the ageless former Athletic, Bartolo Colon, who made his big league debut in April of 1997, when rookie sensation Ramon Laureano was just three months shy of his third birthday.
“I mean, I haven’t seen it that way,” said the laconic Laureano, who was born in Santo Domingo, went to high school in New York and junior college at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M — far away from most of Colon’s stops, save his 2011 season with the Yankees. “I just watch his video and get ready for the game to see what he’s got.”
The 45-year old Colon, who spent 2012 and 2013 in Oakland, owns a 2.93 career ERA at the Coliseum, the fifth-lowest ERA in stadium history with 30+ games started. He’s behind Catfish Hunter (2.39), Vida Blue (2.43), Ken Holtzman (2.45) and Trevor Cahill (2.90).
This year for the Rangers, Colon is 7-10 on the year with a 5.19 ERA in 135 1/3 innings, averaging nearly six innings per start (5.92).
At the end of August, Colon, like the rest of Major League Baseball, will be wearing a nickname on the back of his Players Weekend jersey: Big Sexy. Laureano — who was teased two weeks ago by Khris Davis for not having a gold chain now that he’s in the majors (he wears a silver cross) — was set to just wear his last name. It certainly fit with his understated personality. Laureano — currently living in a hotel and still looking for a roommate — has since changed his mind.
“It’s going to be funny,” Laureano insisted. “I won’t say, because my friends that have social media, they’ll see it. I want to surprise them. It’s a college joke.”
As much as the Rangers have struggled overall this season, but are averaging nearly seven runs per game since the start of August, hitting .286 as a team. That’s all with Adrian Beltre (three shy of tying Tony Gwynn for 18th on the all-time hits list) hitting just .224. Rougned Odor — who hit .264 for the first four months of the season — has hit .338 since the calendar turned to August, with five home runs and 23 RBIs in 17 games. Joey Gallo has hit .323 with six home runs and 16 RBIs over that stretch, after hitting just .187 over the first four months.
“If we relax against this team, we’re going to get it handed to us,” Melvin said. “You look up and down their lineup, offensively, they’ve been as good as any team in the American League in the second half. They have their guys back now. It is a potent offense. We’re going to have to play very well to beat these guys. Really, not much pressure on them, either. [They have] a lot of guys at this time of year that are playing for next year, and the offensive numbers they put up are terrific.”
Oakland is in the midst of a stretch where it will play 20 games in 20 days. The A’s are so far 2-1 on that stretch, with three games against the Rangers, four at Minnesota, three at Houston, four against Seattle and three against the Yankees coming up before a Sept. 6 off day.
“It’s based on the personnel we have,” Melvin said. “We have 20 games in a row, which, you have to take it easy sometimes on bullpens. There’s going to be some guys getting days off if you’re late in the season, too, that probably need one … You want to have a couple of guys available in the back end of your bullpen every day, so we need to spread it around a bit more in a 20-game stretch.”
For the final six days of the 20-game run, Oakland will be able to rely at least a bit on September call-ups. It’s hard to imagine that Franklin Barreto and Dustin Fowler won’t be among those who make their way to Oakland.
Fowler, who spent three months with the A’s before being sent back down to Sacramento, has hit .446 since re-joining the Triple-A River Cats, with four stolen bases and a pair of triples.
Barreto, who has played 23 games with the A’s this season, has hit .378 with four homers and 11 RBIs since he was sent down most recently early this month.
The returns of Fowler and Barreto to Sacramento has coincided with a 15-game winning streak for the River Cats, which bodes well for Oakland, when they bring up the team’s biggest pieces for the stretch run.
“You try to error on the side of too many [players called up], as opposed to to little,” Melvin said. “We’ll have a good complement of guys coming … that’ll help out, bullpen-wise, too. We’re going to make sure we cover our bases on what we potentially may need, whether it’s injury, whether we’re down a few guys in the bullpen, whether it’s maybe a little more length than we have down there right now. Then, some guys that have been part of this thing, too.”
The A’s (74-50) play 19 of their final 38 games at home (including four against the mariners and three against the Yankees) and starting Sept. 1, fans who have purchased A’s Access plans for 2019 — including those who earned a gong for Melvin — will receive a sampling of the benefits they’d receive next season: 50 percent off concessions, 25 percent off merchandise and $10 pre-paid parking. Even if fans aren’t members yet, they can become members at any point in September and unlock member benefits.
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