Adam Dunn has never gotten a taste of postseason baseball, but on Labor Day, he helped himself inch a little bit closer.
In his first at-bat as a member of the Oakland Athletics, the Big Donkey had a two-run big splash that kicked off a five-run first inning. The A’s went on to defeat the Seattle Mariners by a score of 6-1. Dunn was acquired from the Chicago White Sox Aug. 31 and his arrival could not have come sooner. Prior to heading back home, Oakland was swept in a 4-game series by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, in which they scored a total of one run the last three games. 29 consecutive innings went by before an Athletic crossed home plate in the 8th inning on Sunday.
The A’s find themselves 4.5 games ahead in the first AL Wild Card spot. A third consecutive trip to the postseason seems very likely, but this is baseball. To assume anything would be a grizzly mistake. For a good portion of the season it looked like Oakland would not only win the AL West for the third year in a row but also by a comfortable margin. The weekend series at Angel Stadium was probably the biggest nightmare the team had all season and now it’s the Halos in the driver’s seat. Three games remain between the two clubs Sept. 22-24 at O.co Coliseum. That is crucial considering the Athletics are now 44-23 at home, but are just 35-35 on the road.
Based on the August the A’s had with a 12-17 record, this was by far their biggest win of the season to date. It wasn’t just the fact that it ended a 4-game losing skid, or that they also went on a slump from Aug. 10-17 in which this club dropped 7 of 8, it’s also because the recent pieces Billy Beane has assembled stepped up in a big way on Monday. Dunn’s blast helped provide life for the struggling offense. On the pitching side of things, Jason Hammel has had ugly numbers since a July 4 trade with the Chicago Cubs, but Monday was his turn to take the hill. He delivered perhaps his best start to date in an Oakland uniform. On the eve of his 32nd birthday, he held Seattle to just 3 hits over 8 innings. Hammel fanned 5 and walked only 1.
There’s always the spoiler factor, but it wouldn’t be wrong for any A’s fans to be licking their chops when viewing the September schedule. After the Seattle series concludes, they’ll host the Houston Astros Sept. 5-7. After that, Dunn makes his return to the Windy City with a 4-game set with the South Siders. They’ll get the opportunity to take advantage of an injury-riddled Texas Rangers club Sept. 16-18 and again Sept. 25-28 when they close the regular season out in Arlington. Oakland will also get its crack at the Philadelphia Phillies at home Sept. 19-21.
It’s interesting pointing out that the Phillies were looking to extend its playoff streak for the 6th consecutive season in 2012. Philadelphia had a splendid opportunity to move themselves forward with four games on the calendar against the Astros. It was the perfect time to really make something happen. Except the Astros took three of four, and the Phils wound up missing the postseason for the first time since 2006. So while one would think the A’s should do well against all of the aforementioned teams later this month, a playoff spot is anything but guaranteed.
Getting to the playoffs is the first step. Dunn and Hammel did on Monday what they were expected to do when they were acquired. Jon Lester was done fairly well since moving from East to West and Jeff Samardzija has been a mixed bag with some bright spots and some weak spots. It doesn’t matter now that the Athletics dealt prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney to the Cubs organization and both are thriving in their own way. It doesn’t matter if the team traded away a crucial bat in Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox in the Lester deal. August is behind them. It was an ugly month, but not ugly enough with the fact they’d still be in the playoffs if the season ended on Monday. All that matters is capitalizing on the teams with the weaker records, the new acquisitions contributing and getting hot enough to claim the World Series. It’s no longer a matter of just winning the division or making it into the playoffs. With all the moves they’ve made, anything short of the ultimate prize would be an utter disappointment.
If this team is not celebrating its 10th World Series winner in franchise history in 2014, it’s bound to be a long offseason.