OAKLAND -- How well are things going for the A’s right now? Entering Sunday, in the last six times they had faced Angels right-hander Jered Weaver, they’d scored a total of two earned runs in 44 1/3 innings. In Sunday’s 6-3 win over Los Angeles, they touched Weaver for six runs -- five earned -- and 11 hits, only the fourth time in Weaver’s career he has allowed that many hits in a start.
The A’s did this without either Brandon Moss or Josh Reddick in the lineup. They got a combined seven hits from their 7-8-9 batters -- Alberto Callaspo, Craig Gentry and Eric Sogard. And with the win, they swept the Angels in three games by a combined score of 26-11, in the process widening their A.L. West lead from 1 ½ games to 4 ½.
"We got some timely hits and we pitched well," said third baseman Josh Donaldson, who went 5-for-12 in the series with two homers, seven RBIs and four runs. "I definitely think it’s just one of those things where we walk away feeling good about ourselves."
And why not? The A’s go into their travel day with the league’s best record at 35-22, on the heels of their majors-best sixth sweep. They went 5-2 on the homestand against the Detroit Tigers, who lead the A.L. Central, and the Angels, who so far have looked to be the A’s main competition in the West. The A’s have won five of six meetings between the two teams to start the year and are 18-11 in the West.
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"I think early on it’s important to establish that record in the division," said shortstop Jed Lowrie. "But it’s a long year. We can’t just rest on one series."
So it’s off to New York now, but on a definite high note following the A’s best showing against Weaver in some time. Weaver had been 8-1 with a 0.87 ERA in 11 starts against the A’s since 2011. But the A’s got to him Sunday for four runs in the third, keyed by a bases-loaded, two-run single from Donaldson, and added runs in the fifth and sixth on a Lowrie homer and an Eric Aybar throwing error on Sogard’s infield single.
"For the first time we squared some balls up, hit a few balls that found some holes," said manager Bob Melvin. "He’s always difficult. He’s as unpredictable as any pitcher in the league. It was a good day for us."
Donaldson said he felt Weaver "just left some pitches up. For him, he tries to execute up at times, but there’s times where he left some off-speed pitches up, and that gives us a chance to definitely hit the ball a little bit harder."
Weaver retired the first six batters he faced but did not have a clean inning the rest of the afternoon. Typically, Weaver keeps opponents off-balance with his ability to throw any pitch for a strike in any count. Lowrie said of the A’s rapping out 11 hits Sunday, nine of them singles: "I think the biggest thing is just to be ready with him.
"If you’re trying to guess with him he can be a frustrating at-bat," Lowrie said. "If you’re ready every pitch and he gives you something to hit, you’re not going to be surprised by anything."
Sogard, who came in batting .188 for the season, recorded three singles, as did Callaspo, who had been 1-for-9 in his career against Weaver. That helped mitigate the absence of Moss and Reddick, both of whom are hopeful to return Tuesday against the Yankees but still uncertain.
Moss, though, said this game and series only underscored the depth of the A’s offense. "JD has obviously been carrying us a lot, Cespy went through a little period where he wasn’t swinging it, but he’s always dangerous," Moss said. "We have a lot of guys that can hit. One guy, two guys don’t make a lineup."
* Monday’s print story will focus on Donaldson and his seemingly opening more eyes with his performance so far this season, as evidenced by the All-Star vote totals released earlier this week. The A’s-Angels matchup also brought together Donaldson and Mike Trout, the runner-up for A.L. MVP the past two seasons and poster child for advanced statistics like Wins Above Replacement.
According to baseball-reference.com, though, it was not Trout but Donaldson leading all A.L. position players in WAR as of Sunday, enhancing the argument that Donaldson has been among the best players in baseball this year, regardless of position. Moss said there is no question Donaldson has been the A’s MVP to this point, while Lowrie agreed that an argument can be made Donaldson has been as valuable to the A’s as any player to his respective team so far in 2014.
"I think there’s certain stats that have their strengths and their flaws, but I think that one (WAR), in regards to what Josh is doing right now, I think it’s spot-on," Lowrie said. "You don’t have to look far. Look at the numbers, look at what he does on the defensive side of the ball. He’s capable of a lot."
More on that tomorrow.
* Lowrie, meanwhile, marked an interesting first in Sunday’s win. His homer off Weaver came on a fastball in a 3-0 count. It was the first time this season Lowrie has put a ball in play in a 3-0 count -- and only the second time in his entire major-league career.
Weaver had gone 3-0 to Lowrie in the first inning and thrown a fastball for a strike. After that, Lowrie said, Melvin asked him if he would feel comfortable swinging away in a 3-0 count, and Lowrie responded: "If I get a fastball, I would."
Lowrie said he doesn’t always have the green light 3-0, but Melvin put it on when Lowrie again reached that count in the fifth. Weaver threw another fastball over the inside part of the plate, and Lowrie hammered it over the wall in right field.
"Just looking for a pitch over the plate that I could drive, got a good one and put a good swing on it," Lowrie said. "Everything was lined up."
* After allowing four runs in a start for the first time all season last time out against the Tigers, Sonny Gray held the Angels to three runs in 6 2/3 innings on a season-high 113 pitches. He nearly completed seven -- Melvin left him in to face Erick Aybar with two outs and a man on first, but Aybar doubled to make it a three-run game and Melvin then brought in Dan Otero to face Albert Pujols, who struck out looking.
Gray said he "battled" early in the game, walking the leadoff batter in the first and giving up two singles in the second but escaping both jams. The Angels scored twice in the fifth on a pair of sacrifice flies after Collin Cowgill and Kole Calhoun led off the inning with a single and double, respectively.
One good sign: Gray consistently hit 95 mph with movement on his fastball, continuing a stretch of outings where his velocity has been up.
"I felt really good the last couple times out," Gray said. "I figured some things out a little later in the game with my breaking ball, and it got better. I expect to move forward with that and just get better next time out."
If the curveball hasn’t been as sharp, that could be one reason for a dip so far this season in Gray’s strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate. It was 9.4 last season and, after Gray recorded five strikeouts Sunday, stands at 7.3 in 2014. Another reason could be teams just getting more familiar with Gray’s stuff.
While Gray was working with Stephen Vogt for the first time this season Sunday -- after Vogt was recalled from Triple-A on Sunday morning and immediately put in the starting lineup -- he said the transition was smooth. "There was really no hiccups, nothing," Gray said. "It was just kind of like getting right back into it, kind of like riding a bike."
* It hasn’t been declared officially official, but it sure looks like Sean Doolittle has eased into the closer role. Doolittle notched his fifth save with a clean ninth inning Sunday and struck out all three batters on 17 pitches. He hasn’t allowed a run in 14 1/3 innings.
* Melvin said he hopes the A’s can carry some momentum from the sweep into the series against the Yankees starting Tuesday, "but sometimes an off-day can work against you." We’ll see whether that’s the case when Scott Kazmir takes the mound at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. Here are the pitching probables for the series:
Tuesday: LHP Scott Kazmir (6-2, 2.36) vs. RHP Hiroki Kuroda (4-3, 4.57)
Wednesday: RHP Jesse Chavez (4-3, 2.78) vs. LHP Vidal Nuno (1-2, 5.48)
Thursday: LHP Drew Pomeranz (5-2, 2.37) vs. RHP Masahiro Tanaka (8-1, 2.06)