Bullet Trein: The perennially rebuilding Athletics could be trade-deadline buyers after going 20-6 since June 16, the best record in baseball in that span, to improve to 54-42 and move within four games of Seattle for the second wild-card spot. Oakland has scored the winning run in the eighth inning or later in 10 of 23 victories since June 3. They are 37-0 when leading after seven innings thanks to a shut-down bullpen led by hard-throwing right-hander Blake Treinen, a demoted closer in Washington when the Nationals traded him to the A’s for relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson last July 16, and an All-Star in Oakland. Treinen, whose fastball averages 97.3 mph, has a major league-best 0.96 ERA and 24 saves in 27 opportunities.
Coors craziness: Colorado scored all of its runs in the first four innings of a 19-2 win over Arizona on Wednesday night, forcing Diamondbacks infielder Daniel Descalso to the mound in the fourth inning, the first position player to pitch that early in a game in 40 years. Descalso gave up three runs and four hits, including a 447-foot home run to a pitcher, Colorado starter German Marquez, in 2 2/3 innings. Descalso was just a warm-up act. Catcher Alex Avila followed Descalso to the mound and threw two scoreless innings. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other time in the divisional era that a team got 14 or more outs from position players was on Aug. 29, 1979, when Milwaukee’s Sal Bando (nine), Jim Gantner (three) and Buck Martinez (three) got 15 outs in an 18-8 loss to Kansas City.
Leaders of the pack: Four American League teams — the Sox, Yankees, Astros and Mariners — all had winning percentages of .600 or better entering the weekend. That has happened only once for a full season in AL history, in 1977, when the Royals won 102 games, the Yankees won 100 and the Orioles and Red Sox won 97. There is a flip side to such dominance. The Brewers, Blue Jays, Mariners and Athletics each lost 95 games or more in 1977, and the White Sox, Royals and Orioles are on pace to lose 100 or more games this season. There will also be a sudden and gut-wrenching end to the season for one of those four AL powers because two will be relegated to a one-game playoff to determine the AL’s wild-card team. Only division winners are guaranteed spots in the five-game division series.
Wrong number: What the Indians had in Progressive Field on Tuesday night was a failure to communicate. Cleveland had a 4-3 ninth-inning lead over Cincinnati when manager Terry Francona told pitching coach Carl Willis to “get O.P. up,” meaning left-hander Oliver Perez. Willis thought Francona said to “get O.T. up,” as in right-hander Dan Otero. When closer Cody Allen walked Dilson Herrera to load the bases with two out, Otero came through the bullpen gates to face left-handed-hitting Joey Votto, who smacked a three-run double to propel the Reds toward a 7-4 victory. “I said O.P. and Carl thought I said O.T.,” Francona said. “That one lands squarely on me. There’s no getting around it. I’ve got to be responsible for that.” Said Willis: “I made the mistake — got the wrong guy up.”
On the outs: Dexter Fowler parlayed a strong 2016, in which he helped the Cubs win the World Series, into a five-year, $82.5-million deal with the Cardinals. The grass on the other side of one of baseball’s most intense rivalries has not been greener. The outfielder has a .169 batting average and a .548 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, and his effort and energy level were questioned earlier this month by general manager John Mozeliak, who told a team broadcaster in a podcast that he can defend trying to create playing opportunities for Fowler, “but not if it’s at the expense of someone who’s out there hustling and playing hard.” Even worse, the Athletic, citing multiple sources on and around the team, said Fowler and manager Mike Matheny “barely talk and haven’t for months.” Matheny was fired Saturday; Fowler’s still there.
Down time: A lack of action is a bigger problem in today’s game than pace of play. According to ESPN researcher Paul Hembekides, Major League Baseball is on pace for fewer than 50 balls in play per game for the first time ever. The current average of 49.7 balls in play is well below the average of 54.3 in 2008 and 58.0 in 1978. The league batting average of .247 entering the weekend is eight points down from last year’s .255 and threatens to finish the season under .250 for the the first time since 1972, the year before the AL adopted the designated hitter. The team average of 8.42 hits per game is down from 8.69 last season and isthe lowest pace since 8.19 in 1972. Teams are also averaging 8.52 strikeouts a game, the most in baseball history and up from 8.25 in 2017. Entering Friday, there have been more strikeouts than hits. No season in history has ended with more strikeouts than hits.