That SOS stamped out on a beach in Northern California was the work of the Oakland Athletics. As in the fading Oakland Athletes. As in the falling apart Oakland Athletics.
Not so terribly long ago Oakland was just about the hottest team in baseball, but management recognized before the trade deadline July 31 that there was something lacking and ever since has worked the phone lines making trades to buttress a team that no one else really felt needed buttressing.
The A’s picked up All-Star pitcher Jon Lester from the Red Sox. They acquired All-Star pitcher Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs and a third pitcher, Jason Hammel, to boot. Over the weekend the A’s added sometimes slugger Adam Dunn to the roster.
Despite calling in the cavalry for reinforcements, Oakland has not thrived. Hammel has done almost nothing. Samardzija started hot and has lost his groove. Lester started hot and teams caught up to him in his recent starts. As for Dunn, who always has the potential to send a home run into the stratosphere, his acquisition is not a slam dunk. Not only is his home run and RBI production down, he strikes out often. Will he really help the A’s score runs? Too soon to tell.
As it turns out, though, the A’s do seem to be in need of every boost that management is trying to provide. The rival Los Angeles Angels, which at one time trailed far behind in the standings, have overtaken Oakland and gained title to first place in the American League West Division.
Over the holiday weekend the Angels slapped the A’s around, sweeping four straight games, and emerging from their labors for Labor Day with a five-game lead in the race. Dunn can’t get to Oakland too fast, even if he is a shaky quantity at this point in his career and at this point in his season.
Baseball is often described as the long season. It is a marathon, not a sprint. If the season can be compared to a horse race then the thoroughbred event is the Belmont Stakes with its 1 ½-mile course, longer than either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness Stakes. And if it is a long race, the season is rounding the last curve and headed into the stretch.
While the Angels have been playing nearly perfect ball, they are no lock to keep it up. Just Sunday, rookie pitcher Matt Shoemaker upped his record to 14-4. LA was definitely not counting on that. Shoemaker’s surprise success could balance out the loss of Garrett Richards for the season. Richards recently went down with a knee injury in the midst of his finest campaign -- 13-4, 2.61 earned run average.
At the moment the Angels seem to be holding together without Richards’ assistance. Whether LA can blitz everyone left on the schedule to put distance between itself and the A’s is not obvious yet, but the four-game onslaught this past weekend sent a powerful message to Oakland.