OAKLAND -- The cute and cuddly stage was last year, and the A's are way beyond that now.

They've been too good for too long for this to be a fluke, a blip or just a pie-in-the-face TV giggle moment.

The A's are 56-39 entering the All-Star break, clearly one of the best, deepest and toughest teams going, and they have every right to act and talk like it.

"The guys in this clubhouse believe we have one of the best teams in baseball," said third baseman Josh Donaldson, minutes after his 11th-inning RBI single lifted the A's to a 3-2 victory over Boston at the Coliseum on Sunday.

Oakland Athletics’ Josh Donaldson (20) is mobbed by his teammates after driving in the winning run against the Boston Red Sox during the 11th inning
Oakland Athletics' Josh Donaldson (20) is mobbed by his teammates after driving in the winning run against the Boston Red Sox during the 11th inning of their Major League Baseball game, Sunday, July 14, 2013, at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. Donaldson drove in all three of the A's runs in their 3-2 victory. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group) ( D. ROSS CAMERON )

"So it's just kind of one of those things, when we get another opportunity to play a team like the Red Sox, like the Pirates, like the Cardinals, we're going to go out there to try to send a message that we are a really good team and that we're for real."

Of course, Donaldson -- who also blasted a long two-run homer earlier in the game -- said this with remnants of the latest cream pie celebration still smeared on his shirt.

Yes, this year's A's team is as free-spirited and footloose as always, and Josh Reddick is always a pie master looking for a target after walk-off victories.

But there also seems to be a meatier and calmer mood of confidence around these players this season; they're not just hoping they're good or out to prove they're good.


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"I think we're right where we want to be," shortstop Jed Lowrie said. "I think we've got the good quality starting pitching, a good back end of the bullpen, a good bullpen all the way around.

"And I think our offense will continue to give us as many runs as we need to win."

They know they're good -- as good as the A's were in the early-2000s, when Jason Giambi, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Miguel Tejada propelled everything.

Or this team could be better. It'll all get decided in October, but if their pitching stays at this high level and their offense picks up just a bit, the 2013 A's are a World Series kind of team.

At this point last season, the A's were 51-44 and starting their rocket surge to the top of the A.L. West. I asked a few of them Sunday: Aren't you a better team now than you were then?

"I wouldn't say we're better, I wouldn't say we're worse," first baseman Brandon Moss said. "I would just say that we're a good baseball team.

"I think there's guys on the team that have underperformed that are capable of doing a lot more. But we're still doing really well because other guys have picked up the slack and have been having outstanding years."

So what happens when Yoenis Cespedes, Reddick and Moss himself -- the usual middle of the A's lineup--start matching their 2012 stats?

Anything is possible then.

But Moss also pointed out that you can't just assume that the A's will be a dominant offense when everything kicks into gear, because you never know who'll get hot or stay hot at any moment.

The only important point: Win. And the A's are winning.

"There are a lot of the same characters that were here last year, and I think we've taken a lot of confidence from last year into this year," manager Bob Melvin said.

"And there's some guys that have stepped up not only performancewise but leadershipwise. So it feels like it's the same type of group, even though it's not the same type of team.

"But there's a lot of baseball yet to be played to give you an evaluation on what team's better."

It's not that they're better or worse than they were last year, when the A's stormed through the second half and won the West with a 94-68 record.

(They're on pace to win 95 games. But they've also won 12 of their last 17 by winning their last six series in a row against, among others, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and now Boston.)

It's that the A's are duplicating and extending what happened in the second half of 2012, and when you do that over such a long period, you are no fluke.

The fluke now would be if the A's didn't win 94 or more games, and if they didn't win a playoff series or two. That's a significant status change, and it's what this team has earned.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.