The universe is filled with unsolved mysteries, like who made the crop circles? What’s on the other side of a black hole? And who let the dogs out?
But you don’t need to assemble a team of scientists to figure out why the A’s are surging in the AL West standings right now.
With a 2-0 win over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, the A’s (34-24) have now won 14 of their past 16 games and, as usual, the team is riding its pitching to the top.
Last year, the A’s snagged the AL West title in the 162nd game of the season because guys like Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin stepped up and pitched their hearts out while the established names — Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon and Brett Anderson — popped in and out of the rotation.
But the big question heading into the 2013 season was whether these young arms could put together an encore performance after throwing so many extra innings last year.
It wasn’t surprising to see the A’s sputter out of the gates this season. Last year, the adrenaline rush of a playoff race fueled guys such as Parker, Milone and Griffin as they pitched into October for the first time in their careers. How can they possibly reach that level of intensity in the middle of April?
On May 15, the A’s were 20-22, trailing the Texas Rangers by seven games. Dan Straily, who led all of pro baseball (minor leagues included) in strikeouts last year, was 1-2 with a 7.27 ERA and on the verge of being sent back to Triple-A Sacramento. Bartolo Colon looked his age (he’s now 40), dragging around a 4.56 ERA along with his 200-pound belly. But the biggest enigma was Jarrod Parker, the A’s rookie ace last season, who couldn’t locate his fastball, keep the ball in the yard or pull his ERA below 7.00. Parker pitched an additional 78 innings last year, and as he struggled through the first six weeks of the season, he seemed fatigued.
But now, everyone’s cooking. In the past 16 games, the starters are 10-2 with a 2.67 ERA. Straily is throwing like a future ace, Colon looks 10 years younger (not that I’m accusing him of taking anything) and, most importantly, Parker is pitching like, well, Parker again.
With six-plus shutout innings Sunday, the 24-year-old is now 4-1 with a 2.41 ERA in his past five starts, and his turnaround is the most important development for Bob Melvin’s club over the past two weeks.
Sooner or later (probably much later), Brett Anderson will return, so the A’s can get by if Straily teeters or Colon falls apart. But the team has leaned on Parker since his arrival more than a year ago and they’re depending on him to be a Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson or Barry Zito for many years to come.
When Parker’s on, his stuff can be as baffling as hunting for Bigfoot, and if his arm holds up for another 180 innings this year, the A’s should put together another exciting run in the East Bay this summer.
Paul Gackle is a columnist for The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.