SEATTLE -- It's too late to wonder whether the low-budget, star-lacking A's are for real. It's September, they've reeled off nine straight victories and, with 29 games left in their season, hold a three-game lead on the first of two American League Wild Card spots.
On Monday, the Angels open a three-game series in Oakland and begin a stretch in which they'll play seven of their next 10 games against the A's. Few would've predicted it at the start of the season -- or perhaps even at the All-Star break -- but it's the Angels who have ground to make up.
"It's a real credit to them," said outfielder Mark Trumbo, whose Angels are 3 1/2 games back of the Orioles for the AL Wild Card spot. "I know they don't have any of the payroll that most teams do, but they've found a way to do it. They have a lot of really young talent, especially a lot of quality young pitching. They've just really played well as a unit, and that's kind of what it takes."
Mostly, though, they've won with their pitching.
The A's went into Sunday with the second-lowest rotation ERA in the AL (3.74) and were tied for first in bullpen ERA (2.80), using it to counteract an offense that has received some surprising production but nonetheless ranks ninth in the Junior Circuit in runs per game.
Once again, A's general manager Billy Beane has put together a winning club with savvy moves.
Josh Reddick (.825 OPS) was acquired from the Red Sox for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. Yoenis Cespedes (.849) signed because the A's offered him far more than anyone else as a free agent. Jonny Gomes (.844) was a January bargain-bin pickup. Jarrod Parker (3.72 ERA in 23 starts) and Ryan Cook (2.70 ERA and 13 saves) came in the deal that sent Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow to the D-backs. And Tommy Milone (11-9, 3.73 ERA) was acquired from the Nationals for Gio Gonzalez.
"Their transformation has been remarkable," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "They've retooled, they're running a lot, they're using a deeper look to pressure you with their offense, and pitching-wise, they're just terrific. You put together all those ingredients, and you can see how they're winning."