OAKLAND — Sitting in the clubhouse early Saturday afternoon, Oakland Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien and first baseman Matt Olson watched the Red Sox-Yankees game play out on the big-screen TV.
When a broadcast graphic popped up displaying Oakland’s 31-10 record since June 16, veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy walked by his younger teammates and remarked, “We’re not done yet, boys.”
Sure enough, the A’s beat the Detroit Tigers, 2-1, on Saturday to extend their winning streak to five games. They’re now only 3 1/2 games behind the tumbling Yankees in the AL Wild Card race, having already surpassed the Seattle Mariners for the second Wild Card spot. The Houston Astros, just five games ahead for the division, are also in reach.
“We’ve been doing a good job of just trying to take it day by day,” third baseman Matt Chapman said. “We don’t take anything for granted. Every win is precious.”
Oakland (66-46) used a familiar formula to continue its dominance of the Tigers, relying on the long ball to overcome starter Jordan Zimmerman. In the third inning, Chapman sent a 111.4 mph missile out to center field and designated hitter Khris Davis drove his 30th home run of the season over the left field wall for Oakland’s 150th home run this season.
Starter Edwin Jackson went 6 1/3 innings, shutting out the Tigers after he let an unearned run cross the plate in the first. Jackson allowed five hits, walked one and struck out three. His ERA is down to 2.87 — the best mark since his rookie season in 2003.
While Jackson said this was one of his most comfortable outings over the past month, he credited the A’s defense for helping him cruise. Center fielder Ramón Laureano, making his second-ever MLB start, pulled off several athletic catches and earned his second career assist in as many days by throwing out Tigers left fielder Mike Gerber trying to stretch out a double in the fifth.
Melvin was appreciative of Jackson’s continued effectiveness.
“It’s been welcome,” Melvin said. “We don’t have to use all three [back-end relievers] today. For him to go out in the seventh inning … he’s doing his best work here.”
After Lucroy offered a bit of pregame veteran leadership, Chapman stepped up in the eighth inning. Oakland right-hander Lou Trivino threw consecutive balls to Gerber with one out and the potential tying runner on first, prompting the 25-year-old to walk over from third base and offer Trivino assurance.
“I’ve played with him in the minor leagues, and I know when Lou sometimes maybe needs a second to catch his breath and settle down,” Chapman said. “I felt if I went over there and just talked to him for a second … he would bear back down and make the pitches he wanted to make.”
It worked, as three pitches later Gerber popped out to Chapman in foul territory. Trivino then induced a groundout to end the inning.
While Chapman downplayed the moment, calling it “nothing crazy,” it seemed to signify his growing place as a locker room force. Just last September, he was ejected from a game after his reaction to Los Angeles Angels catcher Juan Graterol allegedly accusing the A’s of stealing signs.
“The way I looked at it was I wanted to stand up for my teammates,” Chapman said after that game. “Even though we’re a young group of guys, I feel like we deserve to be treated just like anyone else in the big leagues and respected by our opponents.”
Matt Chapman on getting tossed from the game ⬇ pic.twitter.com/XX4QD8Nado
— A’s on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 6, 2017
The A’s eventually must rely on members of their young core to take command of the clubhouse. Lucroy, after all, is under a one-year contract. Chapman is perhaps the one who will take on that role.
Chapman’s 2-for-4 day Saturday extended his career-best on-base streak to 20 games.
“The more [Chapman] plays, the more comfortable he’s gonna get,” Melvin said. “We felt like the timing was right to get him up in the two hole [of the order], and he’s been running with it. … He’s just gonna get better and better.”
After Trivino wiggled out of the eighth, closer Blake Treinen earned his 28th save of the season in the 9th. Since July 3, Oakland’s bullpen has given up just 25 earned runs in 103 2/3 innings — good for a 2.17 ERA.
With Oakland’s rotation suddenly on a roll and its relievers still performing at a high level, the A’s are making it difficult for teams to handle them.
“The confidence that is there when we take the field is pretty extreme right now,” Melvin said.