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Red-hot Oakland Athletics on 11-game win streak: Here's why MLB team has been so good

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 4/22/2021 Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY

The Oakland Athletics have lived an entire season in less than a month. 

A franchise notorious for slow starts and hot streaks compressed that lifestyle into a record-setting 20-day stretch during which it made history – becoming the first team to lose its first six games and then win 11 in a row at any point in the season, according to STATS, Inc.

Oakland players celebrate their walk-off win against Minnesota on Wednesday. © Tony Avelar, AP Oakland players celebrate their walk-off win against Minnesota on Wednesday.

That the A's endured that low and enjoyed that high in nearly consecutive fashion – they beat the Dodgers for their first win on April 7, lost the next day to Houston and haven't lost since – is enough to make any manager's head spin. 

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"Talk about a complete flip of the script," A's manager Bob Melvin said of a club that got outscored 50-13 in starting 0-6.

Melvin's squad is still just halfway to the franchise record of 20 consecutive wins, set by the 2002 "Moneyball" A's who famously started slowly - 20-25 at one point - before catching fire.

This turnaround, of course, is far more abrupt.

A look at just some of the factors for this turnaround: 

It's the pitching, stupid

In a typical season, it takes well more than a month for sample sizes to settle in. And it's definitely far too soon to project just how the A's rotation will shake out over the next five months, particularly after the stunted aberration that was 2020. 

Yet the about-face of Oakland's starters early on has been startling. 

They were pelted in their first go-round – or two, or three – in the rotation but stabilized and even dominated since then. Third-year lefty Jesus Luzardo lugged an 8.31 ERA into his fourth start of the season Tuesday against Minnesota - and promptly gave up two hits in 5 ⅓ shutout innings, finishing off a doubleheader sweep. 

Earlier that afternoon, Sean Manaea – shelled for five runs in his first outing – pitched a seven-inning shutout, his third straight start giving up two or fewer runs. Even fifth starter Cole Irvin – who came into the year with a 6.75 ERA in 19 games with Philadelphia – shook off two ugly starts to shut out the Tigers over six innings his last time out. 

Only No. 1 starter Chris Bassitt has been consistent thus far, leaving open the question of which sample truly represents how good the A's rotation may be. Yet pitching coach Scott Emerson is among the finest in the business, and it's certainly no coincidence significant adjustments were made the second, third or fourth time around, to great success. 

The 'other' Matt

Matt Chapman and Matt Olson have been largely joined at the hip during their time in Oakland, with the club facing a de facto 2023 deadline to, theoretically, open a new ballpark and hopefully re-sign one or both of their corner infielders. 

But while third baseman Chapman has long been considered MVP caliber – as an All-Star and two-time Platinum Glove winner – Olson has stolen the early thunder. 

His six home runs are tied for the AL lead and trail only Ronald Acuña Jr., and he slammed a pair of them in the A's wild, 13-12 victory over the Twins on Wednesday. 

Olson has a pair of Gold Gloves to his credit, too, but never an All-Star nod. At 27, he seems on the verge of adding that honor to his resume. 

Old guy rules

No one has ever considered the waters of the San Leandro Bay restorative. Yet the undistinguished waterway that connects Oakland's Coliseum with its airport seemingly rejuvenate Jed Lowrie. 

Now 37, Lowrie entered 2021 after playing just nine games over two seasons with the New York Mets, as myriad mysterious leg ailments – turns out the Mets discouraged Lowrie from an apparently necessary knee surgery – kept him sidelined.

Well, he's back for his third stint in Oakland and it's like he never left. 

Lowrie has produced a .960 OPS in 70 plate appearances and his 14 RBI are tied for seventh in the American League. The veteran infielder was an All-Star in 2018, his last with the A's before signing that $20 million deal with the Mets. 

He's played with the Red Sox, Astros and Mets but his greatest success has come in Oakland – a career 111 adjusted OPS, with his two years in Houston (103) the only other spot he was better than league average. 

Central air

Of course, the schedule-makers and the fates have been kind, too. 

The A's caught the two-time defending AL Central champion Twins at just the right time, after they were idled for three games due to positive COVID-19 tests and were without several key players – shortstop Andrelton Simmons, outfielders Max Kepler and Kyle Garlick and pitcher Caleb Thielbar – during a three-game sweep. 

More than a third of their win streak came at the expense of the Central doormat Detroit Tigers, with two more coming against NL weakling Arizona. 

Their next 20 games will come against the AL East, 14 of those against the potent Rays, Blue Jays and Red Sox. That stretch should get the A's back to something resembling equilibrium. 

Then again, that's not exactly in the franchise's DNA. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Red-hot Oakland Athletics on 11-game win streak: Here's why MLB team has been so good

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