OAKLAND -- The honor of owning the best record in Major League Baseball has shifted across the Bay.
As the surging A's beat the Texas Rangers 4-2 on Wednesday afternoon at the Coliseum, they grabbed the top spot as the Giants continued a June tailspin. The A's looked like a club intent on holding onto it for a while.
The A's (44-28), now 16 games over .500 for the first time this season and with their best 72-game start since 1990, staged an efficient win in every respect before a crowd of 23,175.
Starter Sonny Gray pitched seven strong innings, four different batters drove in the runs, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson turned in sparkling defensive plays, and Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle gave Oakland two innings of lockdown hitless relief in the A's fourth win in five games.
Long story short, the A's appear to be hitting a midsummer groove.
"We still haven't played our best, but we continue to get wins," said Donaldson, who drove in a run, and with a pair of hits is starting to look like his old self at the plate after a miserable slump.
The A's haven't been without their issues -- two starters down for the year at season's outset, Drew Pomeranz now on the shelf with a broken hand and Josh Reddick on a minor league rehab assignment after a knee injury -- but they have somehow managed to find a way to roll mostly merrily along.
"There's something about the nature of this clubhouse and this team that it's a loose enough environment, guys can come in here and be themselves, stay relaxed enough to go out and make the most of their opportunities," Doolittle said.
Doolittle has done much to settle the uncertainty in the A's bullpen as their new permanent closer. He is working on a 221/3-inning scoreless streak, has converted eight consecutive save opportunities and continues to add to one of the most ridiculous walk-to-strikeout ratios in recent years. Adding two more whiffs in the ninth in this latest win, the left-hander has 48 strikeouts against just one walk this season.
"I try to ignore it, but it's getting harder and harder," he said. "I tend to be focused more on the process, the work I do before the game. I'd be just as satisfied with a 1-2-3 inning if I got three ground balls or three pop-ups. I don't think it's a secret, I hate walks."
Early command issues had plagued Gray (7-3) in his two previous starts, both losses, but he was sharp from the outset. He retired the first eight hitters he faced and didn't allow a walk until the fifth when the two passes he issued wound up scoring and briefly tying the game at 2-2 after a Shin-Soo Choo bases-loaded single.
But Gray got out of that inning without further damage and finished his outing by retiring six of the final seven hitters he faced.
The A's offense, meanwhile, gave him a two-run cushion to work with in the bottom of the fifth on a Brandon Moss RBI double and a Stephen Vogt sacrifice fly against Texas starter Nick Tepesch (2-3).
Gray spent time in between starts working with pitching coach Curt Young trying to maintain better balance. It clearly paid dividends.
"Overall, it was a pretty good outing," Gray said. "It was nice to get off to a good start and go pretty deep into the game. Other than that fifth inning, when I missed my location a little bit, I felt real good. Fortunately, I was able get (Adrian Beltre) to fly out to center (to end the fifth-inning Texas rally) and was able to start fresh the next inning."
So how does manager Bob Melvin, never much of a big picture guy, feel about having the team with the best record in baseball nine games shy of the midway point?
"At any point in time you can say you have the best record in baseball, it's satisfying, but there's a lot of baseball left to be played," he said. "You just try to take that confidence you have right now and apply it to tomorrow, the next day, the day after that. But at least for the time being, it feels good."
Follow Carl Steward on Twitter at twitter.com/stewardsfolly.
Boston's (Jake Peavy 1-4)
at A's (Scott Kazmir 8-2),
7:05 p.m., CSNCA
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