OAKLAND – Billy Butler called it a rare offensive day, the kind hitters savor because they know they don’t come around too often.
But here’s what made Sunday’s 14-1 rout of the Minnesota Twins so encouraging from the A’s perspective:
Maybe history can repeat itself.
To see Butler crank a ball over the center field wall for the second straight game, it convinces you that maybe he can rediscover his past All-Star form and wreak some second-half havoc.
To watch little-used Jake Smolinski go deep twice and drive in four runs, you wonder if he can be the kind of diamond in the rough that’s characterized A’s teams of the past three seasons.
This three-game series against Minnesota started ominously for Oakland, when No. 1 starter Sonny Gray got knocked around in a 5-0 loss. That the A’s rebounded and won the series, despite losing the opener with its ace on the hill, showed some character.
[INSTANT REPLAY: A's ruin Milone's return, crush Twins 14-1]
After coming back in the late innings to win 3-2 on Saturday night, the A’s put Sunday’s game away early and hit a season-high five home runs.
“Anytime you have Sonny Gray on the hill, you think you’ve got a guaranteed win,” Butler said. “That’s kind of greedy, but that’s the way Sonny’s pitched. To have it flipped like that, where we lose that one and take the next two, I really think (Saturday) night gave us a lot of confidence and carried over to today.”
Whether the A’s get to attempt a second-half run depends largely on if the front office keeps the team intact past the July 31 trade deadline. That’s far from guaranteed, and for good reason. This team hasn’t played consistently enough to show it can jump back into the postseason picture.
But, if general manager Billy Beane does decide to stand pat, he’ll do so based on the belief that this team has the potential to make a run moving forward. The A’s remain nine games back in the AL West, and eight games out of a Wild Card spot, but a performance such as Sunday’s might be persuasive.
Butler’s history after the All-Star break might factor in too.
The A’s DH is a .281 career hitter with 62 homers and 333 RBI before the break (706 games). After the break, he’s hitting .305 with 74 homers and 339 RBI ( in just 547 games).
“A lot of these guys do have the power to be productive,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Billy’s starting to swing it a lot better here recently, hitting the ball out to the big part of the park.”
Melvin has dropped Butler down from the cleanup spot against right-handers, but the A’s have shown patience with the nine-year veteran, who was signed to a three-year $30 million contract in the offseason.
Butler is hitting just .252 with nine homers and 44 RBI, but four of those homers have come in the past 15 games. He agreed with Melvin that driving the ball up the middle is a sign he’s getting locked in.
“That’s the type of hitter I am, I’ve always hit the ball up the middle,” Butler said. “Maybe just getting pitched in so much, sometimes you over-compensate or make adjustments and get a little jumpy (on inside pitches). They’re still pitching me in. I’m just trying to focus my bat path somewhere else, stay through it more. The second half always has been better for me than the first.”
What a couple days it’s been for Smolinski. After getting just three at-bats in the first seven games since he was called up from Triple-A Nashville, Smolinski singled in the tying run Saturday off Twins All-Star closer Glen Perkins, then started in left field Sunday and enjoyed the first multi-homer game of his career.
Acquired off waivers from Texas for his ability to hit lefties, Smolinski figures to start Tuesday and Wednesday, with the A’s scheduled to face lefties against Toronto.
“The team made me feel like I was a part since Day 1,” he said. “Obviously everybody wants to contribute, and I'm just trying to do my part right now and hopefully we'll get it rolling.”
Getting it rolling … that’s been easier said than done for the A’s in 2015. They teased fans once again Sunday by showing just how good they can be when clicking on all cylinders. Doing that on a more regular basis remains the challenge.