OAKLAND The A's led the Texas Rangers by a game and a half in the American League West when they left town Sept. 8.
They returned home Monday having stretched that lead to 6 1/2 games over the course of a week, due in part to an 11-3 start to September, and this is what reliever Sean Doolittle was discussing at his locker before Monday night's game when he caught himself mid-sentence.
"It's what we've been trying to do is peak at the right time, play our best baseball in September and put ourselves in a position to I don't even want to say it," Doolittle said, before continuing with: "To be in the driver's seat."
Doolittle was avoiding the finality of the word "clinch," which the A's moved closer to possibly doing last weekend with a three-game sweep of the Rangers in Texas.
Their magic number to win the division is seven after their 12-1 loss to the Angels on Monday night and the Rangers' 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
With the Cleveland Indians also losing Monday, the A's magic number to clinch a playoff spot is six. Still, asked whether players have been studying the standings and parsing potential playoff seeding, Doolittle said: "None of that stuff has really come up yet."
"I think it might be in the back of guys' minds," he said. "But we learned so many things from last year and how things unfolded."
Last year, of course, it was the A's in a similar position to Texas' current one trailing by five games with nine to play before winning the division on the season's final day.
With much of that clubhouse returning, Doolittle suggested the experience is "kind of keeping us grounded and keeping us focused." Just in case, manager Bob Melvin said the message is driven home in every advance meeting, such as the one the A's held before playing the Angels on Monday.
"We have a bigger lead than we did (on their last homestand)," Melvin said. "But not anymore comfortable, no. We have to finish this thing out."
Complicating things on Monday were C.J. Wilson and an Angels lineup that battered Jarrod Parker for eight runs in 4 1/3 innings, handing the A's right-hander his first loss since May 22. Parker's 19-start unbeaten streak had been the longest in franchise history since Lefty Grove started 21 consecutive games without a loss in 1931.
Parker seemed off from the beginning, walking leadoff hitter J.B. Shuck on four pitches to start the game. He retired the next two hitters before Josh Hamilton singled, Mark Trumbo lined a double to left and Kole Calhoun singled to give the Angels a 2-0 lead.
The Angels added an unearned run in the third and knocked Parker out of the game in a fifth inning in which they sent 10 men to the plate and scored five runs on six hits. Parker allowed the first four hits and departed after Calhoun's two-run single made it 6-0. Jerry Blevins then allowed two two-out RBI singles, including one to Andrew Romine that scored Calhoun and closed the book on Parker.
Wilson, meanwhile, set a career high with his 17th win while holding the A's scoreless on two singles through the first five innings. Derek Norris broke up the shutout in the sixth with a single that scored Josh Donaldson and left two on with one out, but Nate Freiman grounded into a double play to end the A's best chance against Wilson.
Such is the benefit of the current standings, though even on a night when they did little right, the A's moved one step closer to securing a postseason berth.
Notes With Parker starting after being scratched from his regular turn Sunday due to illness, Melvin said the rest of the rotation will simply be pushed back a day. Sonny Gray will start tonight's game and A.J. Griffin gets the day game Wednesday.
Yoenis Cespedes, who started at designated hitter against the Angels, is a "day-to-day proposition" with right shoulder soreness that bothers him when throwing, Melvin said. Cespedes had an MRI, but the A's were still awaiting the results Monday evening.
Doolittle is the A's nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, given to one MLB player in recognition of sportsmanship and community involvement.
Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015, and read his online reports at blogs.sacbee.com/bay-area-baseball.