Youthful A's hottest team in July

Oakland Athletics Coco Crisp (L) and Athletics' manager Bob Melvin share a laugh after Crisp drove...

Oakland Athletics Coco Crisp (L) and Athletics' manager Bob Melvin share a laugh after Crisp drove home the game-winning run against the New York Yankees during the 12th inning of their MLB American League baseball game in Oakland, California on July 22, 2012. (REUTERS)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:15 PM ET

"Who are those guys?" is one of the memorable lines from the 1969 film classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Butch was asking the question of the posse that was tracking them relentlessly, and the Blue Jays may be muttering the same thing when they look out at the Oakland Athletics over the next three days.

Teams from the west coast are sort of hidden from view, kind of on the other side of the moon, but the youthful A's are coming along with a rush.

They arrive in town fresh off a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees, and with a 51-44 record, entered play Monday tied for the second AL wild-card spot.

The Athletics have been the hottest team in July with a 14-2 record, have won five in a row and nine of their past 10. Over their last 43 games they have gone 29-14 and keep winning in ways that breaks the hearts of other teams.

Against the Yankees, they won all four games by one run and saved the best for last on Sunday, when Seth Smith hit a solo homer in the ninth to tie the game before Coco Crisp singled home the winning run in the 12th.

It was the 11th walkoff victory of the season for Oakland, a total which leads the majors.

Oakland manager Bob Melvin, however, knows there's still a long way to go.

"We're in July," he said in Oakland. "Can't help but follow where the standings are, but when you talk about contention, we're talking about middle-to-late July right now. I think when you really as a team start looking at what you consider to be contention, it's more late August/September."

Their story, however, keeps getting better. Oakland has used 10 rookie pitchers this season and has used 17 rookies overall. At the moment, the A's have 10 rookies on their current squad.

The A's are winning thanks to the combination of great pitching -- they lead the AL with a 3.37 ERA -- and timely hitting.

Lately, though, they also have shown a little pop. They have slugged 17 homers since the all-star break and have totalled 51 homers in their past 34 games.

This weekend they were able to keep the mighty Yankee sluggers in check over four games, a feat that few teams can lay claim to.

"I'm very impressed," Mark Teixeira of the Yankees said of Oakland following the game Sunday. "These guys always seem to have great young pitchers and then as soon as they get two or three years (of service) they ship them off.

"I don't know where they get these guys from. It's like every year they bring in three or four new young stud pitchers. Give them a lot of credit. They do a great job of developing pitching."

mike.rutsey@sunmedia.ca

ATHLETICS AT BLUE JAYS

TUESDAY 7:07 p.m. LHP Travis Blackley LHP Brett Cecil

WEDNESDAY 7:07 p.m. RHP A.J. Griffin LHP Ricky Romero

THURSDAY 12:37 p.m. LHP Tommy Milone LHP Aaron Laffey

RUTSEY'S TAKE

The Athletics are dead last in hitting (.228) and runs scored (362) but lead the league in pitching with a spiffy 3.37 ERA. Let's review: The Yankees swept the Jays in New York, the Athletics swept a four-game series from the Yankees in Oakland. That means that the A's will crush the Jays, no? The Jays have not been at their best when facing pitchers they aren't familiar with.

PREDICTION

The Jays are coming off a sweep of Boston and need their offence to keep piling up the runs. If they can get a win out of Brett Cecil on Tuesday they could take two of three. If not, the momentum they established against the Red Sox could quickly grind to a halt.

ATHLETICS WHO'S HOT

OF/DH Coco Crisp had the game-winning, hit Sunday and over his past 10 games he's hitting .386 (17-for-44) with six multi-hit games.

DH/OF Jonny Gomes is batting .340 (19-for-54) over his past 21 games with five homers and 15 RBIs.

CF Yoenis Cespedes went 0-for-5 on Sunday to put an end to his nine-game hitting streak over which time he batted .576 (19-for-33) with four homers, 10 RBIs and eight runs scored.

ATHLETICS WHO'S COLD

C Derek Norris snapped an 0-for-30 drought on Sunday with a single. He came into the game 0-for-29 in his past eight games.

SS Brandon Hicks is batting just .107 (3-for-28) over his past 10 games.

LF Seth Smith was one of the heroes in Sunday's victory thanks to his solo homer in the ninth that tied the game. Overall, though, he's in a rut. Over his past 21 games he's hitting just .185 (12-for-65).


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