A's creeping up on everyone, including Rangers
ANAHEIM -- The Yankees and Orioles are dead even atop the American League East, a division the Athletics would be leading by two games.
The White Sox have a one-game lead over the Tigers in the AL Central, a division that would be under the A's command by six games.
Only the Rangers in the AL West are keeping the A's off the top of the heap.
Yes, the second-best record in the league belongs to the outfit from Oakland with the 29th lowest payroll among 30 teams and a home yard not even a mother could love.
"It's a fun group of guys," said rookie right-hander A.J. Griffin following a 4-1 snuffing of the Angels on Wednesday night, "and we just go out and play baseball. Somebody's got to go out there and pitch, and why not me? That's the way I look at it."
The A's are for real. They came to Angel Stadium on Monday with the Angels on fire, threatening to make good on the pledges of dominance over the winter following the acquisitions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.
Now look how the kids from the East Bay, managed in extraordinary fashion by Bob Melvin, have deflated the Angels, taking the first three in a crucial four-game series.
Pushing their road winning streak to 12 on Wednesday night, the A's got another stellar effort from Griffin, who hails from El Cajon, Calif., down by the border, and had 30 to 40 friends and relatives cheering him on to his Oakland-best 6-0 start.
"I didn't know who he was [in Spring Training]," Melvin said of the 6-foot-5 Griffin. "We didn't see him at all. [Dan] Straily, same thing. He wasn't on our radar either."
Griffin kept all four of his pitches in the strike zone, frustrating the Angels for eight scoreless innings. They needed Pujols' ninth-inning homer against lefty Sean Doolittle to avoid a shutout.
It's not quite dire straits for the Angels, who remain in postseason range with a big finish. But Oakland appears intent on pulling away with the first Wild Card, if not overhauling the two-time defending league champion Rangers.
The A's have won six in a row, 15 of the past 18, 21 of 26. Their 82 wins are eight more than they claimed last season, before general manager Billy Beane elected to start moving his most accomplished (and potentially expensive) performers to get younger and deeper, organizationally.
With the exits of starters Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill and closer Andrew Bailey, the A's weren't expected to do much this season. Most projections were in the 70-win neighborhood, given how formidable the upper half of the division looked with the Goliaths in Texas and SoCal.
Lo and behold, the A's are thriving beyond all logic. Their pitching is so good that even the unexpected departure of Bartolo Colon due to a drug suspension and the season-ending injury of Brandon McCarthy, recovering from a wicked line drive off his head, seemingly have been absorbed.
Brett Anderson has returned from Tommy John surgery to unleash absolute dominance across four outings heading into Thursday's series finale against Angels ace Jered Weaver.
Anderson is 4-0 with a 0.69 ERA in four starts, allowing just 21 baserunners in 16 innings. He joins Griffin, Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and Straily in a first-rate rotation. The highest ERA in the group belongs to 12-game winner Milone, at 3.90.
Should another crisis arise, lefty Travis Blackley would emerge from the bullpen with credentials. The Aussie from Melbourne has made 12 starts this season and is 5-3 overall with a 3.39 ERA.
Another Aussie, Sydney's Grant Balfour, is a closer with attitude at the back end of a resourceful, versatile bullpen.
Despite hitting only .236 as a team with a .308 on-base percentage and .399 slugging mark -- all among the lowest in the Majors -- the A's have managed to outscore the opposition by 86 runs.
"We feel with our pitching staff, we can compete with any lineup, and we've proved that so far," said catcher Derek Norris. "It is remarkable that these guys have come in and put up numbers. It's very nice to see."
The familiar refrain that the AL West is the weakest of the divisions rarely has held water and is especially off target these days.
"I think it's the most competitive division in baseball right now," Melvin said.
The combined winning percentage of the AL West four-pack is .550, by far the highest of the six divisions. Next is the NL East (.516), followed by the AL East (.514).
The Mariners are the lone sub-.500 club in the AL West, but they've surged to 69-74 with a strong second half.
The A's own winning records at home (42-30), on the road (40-30), against the AL East (25-15), the AL Central (22-16), the AL West (25-21) and the National League (10-8).
They've been one tough band of desperados everywhere, against all comers. Somehow, they've done it while shedding $14 million in payroll, down to $52.8 million.
"What's great about this game is you can have 10 years or one year -- if you put up numbers," said Norris. "It is remarkable that these guys have come in and put up numbers. It's very nice to see."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.