No major league player would admit to an opponent being in his head, but with the way the Oakland Athletics dominated the Angels this weekend, you wonder if they may have set up temporary quarters in the minds of the Angels.
With Sunday’s 6-3 victory, the A’s completed their first three-game home sweep of the Angels since 2004, outscoring them, 26-11, to push their American League West lead to 41/2 games.
Oakland beat two of the Angels’ best starting pitchers, knocking out Garrett Richards in the first inning of Friday night’s 9-5 victory and roughing up ace Jered Weaver for four runs and five hits in the third inning Sunday.
The two-time, defending division champions beat one of the Angels’ top relievers in Saturday’s 11-3 victory, Yoenis Cespedes crushing a two-run triple and Alberto Callaspo a two-run double against Joe Smith to end a 3-3 tie in the seventh.
Their big hitters came through in the clutch, Donaldson going five for 12 with two home runs and seven runs batted in and Cespedes knocking in five runs Saturday. Angels slugger Albert Pujols was one for 11 with one RBI.
The Angels failed to score after loading the bases with none out in the first inning Saturday. They had two on with one out in the second inning Sunday and failed to score, and Hank Conger struck out with the bases loaded to end the fourth.
Oakland made several big defensive plays. The A’s bullpen combined for nine scoreless innings; the Angels’ bullpen gave up 11 runs in 111/3 innings.
The A’s have won five of six games against the Angels, and though the Angels appear improved, the gap between the teams seems wide.
“They have a good young staff that is throwing the ball well, the guys in the middle of the lineup are doing some damage, and the guys at the bottom are getting on base and setting things up for the middle,” Weaver said. “They’re a completely different club. In my early years, it was a team we looked forward to playing. You can’t take them for granted now.”
Weaver’s first full year in the big leagues was 2007, when the Angels won the first of three consecutive division titles and often throttled the A’s, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers en route to the playoffs.
They played with a confidence and swagger that the A’s are playing with now and that the Angels are trying to recapture.
“You don’t win back-to-back division titles and not carry confidence with you,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “But it’s not going to serve any purpose to worry about what other organizations are doing.
“There’s no doubt we need to play with that confidence we know is inside our club, where you go out and make that field yours wherever you play. We need to find our game and just bring it. I think we’ve done it in bits and pieces, and we’ll get there.”
They’re not there yet, which was clearly evident this weekend, but they don’t believe the A’s hold a significant physical or psychological advantage over them.
“I don’t think they’re in our heads,” Conger said. “Any time you get swept, you’re not happy, but no one is pushing the panic button. It’s only three games. I think we bring a lot of that confidence and swagger, too, so I think we’ll be all right over the long haul.”
The Angels will get another crack at the A’s next week in Anaheim, and they should have Mike Trout, who sat out two games of the weekend series, and Josh Hamilton, who will be activated Tuesday, back in the lineup.
“You have to play pretty much perfect baseball against them,” Weaver said of the A’s. “They’re having a great year, and they showed they’re for real this weekend. But we’re not going to hang our heads. We’ll see these guys again, and I think they’ll see a different team than they saw this weekend.”