The Oakland A's have skated niftily through the cake part of their schedule, and the amazing part of that sentence is that seven weeks ago, the A's were part of someone else's cake.
Since the morning of June 16, the A's have gone a ridiculous 33-10 and won 12 of 14 series, which you pretty much know. Eleven of those 14 series came against non-playoff contenders (and no, we're not counting the Giants as playoff contenders, not until they get closer to fifth place than 11th), and we only mention this because it suddenly turns much more difficult, and we will now see how real the A's version of real is.
But this is more about the standings than the schedule, because good teams beat their schedule whatever it is. Over the equivalent of one-quarter season, the A's have a better record than even the much-raved-about Boston Red Stockings since June 16, and have gained 13½ games on Seattle, 11 games on the New York Yankees, 10½ on Cleveland, 7½ on Houston, and 16 on the Angels.
They are, in other words, headed for a wild card showdown with the Yankees, and are only 2 ½ games from actually hosting it. They are also four games behind Houston, which was considered (and still is, by at least me) an unthinkable quest.
All this said, here comes the part where the A's prove whether all these numbers are endurable. They play the Los Angeles Dodgers Tuesday and Wednesday, then between now and September 5 have seven against Seattle, six against Houston and three against the Yankees. After that date, they have three at Seattle and then a bunch of Twins and Rangers and Angeles and Orioles.
In short, the test is now – not to see if they are playoff-worthy so much as to see how playoff-worthy they are. In the top-heavy American League, where only six teams matter in the standings, this passes for a brutal midterm.
After all, with all due respect to the A's last 43 games, .767 baseball has been historically unsustainable. Hell, there have only been 30 .700 seasons (out of 2,895, barely one percent of all seasons ever), so at some point the A's must surely cool, and logic suggests that cooling will either come in the next 30 games or not at all.
If it does, these A's, the A's that were anonymously mediocre for 70 games, will be neck-deep in a playoff battle from here on out. But if it doesn't cool for them, they become the counterculture Red Sox, the story that snuck up on baseball when baseball wasn't looking.
And that's the most fun baseball there is.