OAKLAND -- If this weekend provided a measuring stick for the postseason, the A’s graded out nicely.
They capped off a three-game sweep Sunday with a 5-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, as right-hander A.J. Griffin (12-9) delivered his best start of the second half. The A’s moved 2 ½ games ahead of the Rays for the American League’s top wild card spot, but now they’ll turn their attention to a bigger goal.
They’re just one game out of first place in the A.L. West with division-leading Texas arriving for a three-game series beginning Monday. They enter the series having put together a well-rounded three games against Tampa Bay, which came in leading the A’s by a half-game for the top wild card spot.
The A’s got solid starting pitching the entire series from Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray and Griffin, who gave up just one run over seven innings. They got another big lift from Coco Crisp, who homered in the first to give them an early lead.
They also played standout defense behind Griffin and continued to build on their lead against a seven-man committee of pitchers for the Rays. It wasn’t as flashy a series as the A’s put together against Detroit on the last road trip, but it certainly got the job done.
Starting pitching report
Griffin allowed just one run over seven innings, striking out seven and walking one. It was his best effort since he threw eight shutout innings against Boston on July 13. True to form, he gave up his major league-leading 33rd homer of the season. But after that solo blast by James Loney in the second, Griffin settled in.
With closer Grant Balfour unavailable after working three straight days, Dan Otero, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook made sure the Rays wouldn’t get back in the game.
At the plate
Much is made of Coco Crisp’s ability to get on base and be the table-setter for Oakland. But what about his pop for a leadoff man? Crisp led off the first with a homer, his sixth time going deep in the past 11 games. His drive to right off Jamey Wright was his 16th homer of the season, tying his career high. He leads all A.L. leadoff hitters in home runs.
Stephen Vogt provided a spark from the No. 9 spot once again. After tripling to set up a run Saturday night, Vogt homered in the seventh to make it a 3-1 game.
In the field
Griffin was helped by his defense all afternoon. First baseman Daric Barton made a diving stop of Ben Zobrist’s grounder in the sixth and got the out at first. Brandon Moss made a nice play in the seventh to haul in Matt Joyce’s deep drive to the warning track. But the play of the game came later that inning. Desmond Jennings singled to left and Wil Myers tried to score the tying run from second. Yoenis Cespedes throw skipped off the infield grass but Josh Donaldson cut it off and made the short throw to the plate. Stephen Vogt missed Myers as he slid past home , but he made the bare-hand tag as Myers scrambled for the plate, ending the inning.
The A’s got an assist from Rays third baseman Evan Longoria in the third. The two-time Gold Glove winner made a two-base throwing error that allowed Jed Lowrie to reach third on his bunt single. Brandon Moss followed with a run-scoring single that gave the A’s a 2-0 lead. A moment of indecision cost Longoria in the first on Yoenis Cespedes’ slow bouncer. Josh Donaldson, running at second, did a nice job holding up and not running into a tag, and Longoria looked at each base and never made a throw. That loaded the bases, but Alberto Callaspo hit into an inning-ending double play. Desmond Jennings fought the sun and dropped Crisp’s fly in the seventh.
Watch how these teams perform with the glove throughout September. The Rays entered Sunday with thesecond-fewest errors (49) in major league history through 134 games, but they didn’t look the part of a sure-handed team on this day. The A’s have been shaky defensively at times throughout this season, but they’ve looked sharp of late.
A crowd of 18,639 was on hand as the A’s raised $61,395 on Breast Cancer Awareness Day. Since the inaugural event in 1999, they’ve raised more than $1.3 million.
The A’s open a three-game series with first-place Texas on Monday in a 1:05 p.m. holiday matchup. Dan Straily (7-7, 4.41) will take the ball for the A’s. Lefty Derek Holland (9-6, 3.00) goes for the Rangers. The A’s have won just five of 13 games so far with the Rangers, including two of six at the Coliseum.