ARLINGTON -- In winning the first two games of a three-game series that, ostensibly, carried far more importance for the Rangers than the A's, Oakland assured itself of only its second winning multi-set road trip of the season. As they prepared for the finale on Wednesday, the A's were thinking sweep -- it would be their first road series sweep of three or more games since June of last year -- and gunning for a 6-2 roadie through the South Side of Chicago, the Twins Cities and Deep in the Heart of Texas. Surprising? To the outside world, sure.
The White Sox and Twins still hold out hope of catching the front-running Tigers in the American League Central; they were 5 1/2 and 4 1/2 back, respectively, at the end of play on Tuesday. Texas sat 5 1/2 back of the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card race and six behind the Angels in the AL West. Spoilers? To the outside world, sure. But inside the visitors' clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark, the A's didn't exactly embrace the label. "It's obviously not a position you'd like to be in at this time of year," designated hitter Jack Cust said. "But you go out there to win every game, and when you're playing teams that have a shot at going somewhere, the pressure's all on them." Added outfielder Ryan Sweeney: "I don't think anyone wants to be a spoiler. That means you're going home soon." The A's will be going home soon. They were formally eliminated from playoff contention when the Red Sox won Tuesday night, and the club has spent the past 136 days in fourth place in the four-team AL West. The players -- 14 of the 31 on the active roster had less than a year of big league service entering the season, and five more had less than two years in -- have long known they're playing for pride, stats and/or a chance to get a jump on winning a job for 2010. But while waiting out the rain threatening to delay the start of their getaway game, the A's found comfort not in the fact that they're doing damage to other clubs' postseason dreams, but in the fact that they're playing their best ball of the year, winners in seven of their past nine games and 35-35 since June 29. "There's a lot of reasons [for the improved play]," manager Bob Geren said. "Our batting average has gone up. Since Rajai [Davis] and [Cliff] Pennington have been playing every day, we've got more speed in the lineup. The bullpen has been the same as it's been all year, if not better -- very consistent. And the starting pitchers, they'd gone through a little stretch where they weren't throwing strikes the way we need them to, and now they seem to be past that." Cust said youth is a huge bonus down the stretch. "We've got a lot of young guys with a lot of energy who aren't tired and have something to play for in terms of next year," he explained. "That helps. And we're swinging the bats a lot better, guys like Rajai playing the best they've ever played. Pennington's playing well, Sweeney is taking off, [Mark] Ellis is swinging the bat well, AK [Adam Kennedy] has been consistent. The young pitching is a big part of it, too. We've got a lot of fresh faces that teams in the hunt haven't seen much of. "That, combined with the pressure they're facing, I'm sure it makes it tough." Geren suggested that playing potential playoff teams is ideal for a young team in the developmental stages. "You see their best starting pitchers, their best bullpen, their best lineup," he said. "It's better to see that type of competition. It's the best way to improve. ... If we become spoilers to some people, great. But we always want to win every time we go out there, and that's what we're concentrated on. "We don't care about being spoilers. We care about winning games."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.