At 77-52, the Sacramento River Cats are on the verge of becoming the first team in the history of the Pacific Coast League to win six-straight division championships. The club's magic number is 13 with 15 games to play before playoffs begin on September 5.
If Sacramento holds off Las Vegas over the season's final two-plus weeks, the River Cats will earn their 11th division title in 13 seasons, becoming the first team to do so since the league realigned following the 1997 season.
August has been good to the River Cats, who have won 11 of 17 games this month, although they have lost five of their last six. Sunday's loss put them 3.5 games ahead of second-place Las Vegas, who won the first two games of a four-game set lasting through Tuesday.
Peacock initially had a tough time making the adjustments asked of him since coming to his new organization in the offseason, but appears to be finding his stride. He has been outstanding in his last seven outings, with a 2.35 ERA and 41 strikeouts in his last 38.1 innings. He's 5-1 over his last six decisions.
"He's worked hard all season long in trying to find consistency in everything that he's been doing," Sacramento manager Darren Bush said.
"In his last few starts, he's found some consistency in his delivery and approach. All of his pitches, he's executing. Making progress and making strides in the right direction."
Ross has allowed just 10 runs in his last 31.2 frames, and resembles the pitcher the A's had on their roster during the early portion of the last two seasons. One concern with Ross lately, however, has been the nine walks allowed in his last two starts.
The progress of both pitchers could loom important for the A's stretch run toward the playoffs at the big league level. Both represent possible insurance policies for a staff that has taken a step back in recent weeks and will be relying heavily on players who will be monitored closely thanks to histories with injuries – Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Parker. Peacock and Ross are both possibilities to be added to the A's roster when it expands to 40 on September 1, as they could help the team both out of the rotation or the bullpen.
Anderson's 30-day rehab assignment ends Monday, meaning he will have to be added back to the A's 40-man roster. He threw 96 pitches in his most recent rehab outing on August 15, when he allowed three runs on eight hits in five innings.
"His off-speed pitches have gotten better – better command," Bush said. "That's obvious by the number of strikeouts going up every time he's touched the mound. His velocity is OK. His command of his fastball is here and there, but at least it's down. His misses were down, so that's good."
The A's face a difficult decision regarding who will be the odd-man out once Anderson returns to the 40-man roster. Daric Barton is currently in a 1-for-19 skid with Sacramento and might have a hard time cracking the majors with the platoon of Chris Carter and Brandon Moss working effectively at first base.
Graham Godfrey is another candidate to be designated for assignment. The right-hander hasn't made a start since August 8 after losing his spot in Sacramento's rotation to Anderson. Godfrey could become expendable with the recent rise of A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily through the organization. Other options could include shortstop Brandon Hicks, reliever Jim Miller or catcher Anthony Recker.
If the A's decide Anderson is not ready to join the active roster, he could stay on the 60-day DL but not be eligible to pitch in any rehab games in the minor leagues. The other scenario would involve taking him off the disabled list and optioning him to Sacramento where he would be added to the River Cats' official roster and be available to throw in as many games as the organization wanted.
Comings and Goings
It has been a relatively quiet couple of weeks for Sacramento on the transaction front. Evan Scribner was promoted to Oakland on August 5, a move that brought Michael Taylor back to the River Cats. Taylor went hitless in five plate appearances in an abbreviated stint with Oakland. Scribner has been solid this season for the A's, amassing a 2.75 ERA in 19.2 innings.
Pedro Figueroa went to and from Oakland and Sacramento in a two-day span from August 5 to August 7, appearing in back-to-back games for Oakland and throwing three scoreless innings. Since then, the talented lefty has been strong in the River Cats' bullpen, until a hiccup in Sunday's loss saw him allow two earned runs in just a third of an inning. The 9-4 loss marked the first time Figueroa had allowed a run at Raley Field this season.
The team also lost Brandon McCarthy (ended a two-start rehab assignment), Cliff Pennington (rehab) and Josh Donaldson, who was called up to play third base for the A's after Brandon Inge was placed on the 15-day DL retroactive to August 12 with a shoulder injury.
After struggling in his previous two stints with Oakland this season, Donaldson has hit very well in his first six games back. He has gone 10-for-25 with two doubles and a home run.
"JD's a real confident guy," River Cats hitting coach Greg Sparks said. "When he up there to start the season, I think he was trying to do too much. He got big. He was trying to impress. That's been a struggle with him since we got him.
"He's over-aggressive. So we just worked on really calming it down. It's nothing new, it's something that we've always worked on with him. It looks like the last few days, he's really calmed it down. I've been watching some video and he sent me a text saying, ‘How you like that swing?'"
On August 15, the A's signed 30-year-old reliever Jeremy Accardo. The right-hander was released by the Cleveland Indians a week earlier, after putting together a 4.58 ERA in 26 relief appearances with the Indians. The former San Francisco Giants' and Toronto Blue Jays' reliever allowed 38 hits in 35.1 frames this season and struggled with more than four walks per nine innings.
Catcher Ryan Lipkin was promoted from Double-A Midland to take Donaldson's spot. The Vacaville native and University of San Francisco alum struggled at the plate with the Rockhounds this year, hitting just .204/.227/.314, but he was very strong defensively.
Another Bay Area native, Carlos Hernandez, was also promoted from Double-A to Sacramento. Hernandez began the year with the River Cats but he was caught in a numbers game and sent to Midland after only three appearances with Sacramento. Hernandez began his stint with Midland in the bullpen but moved to the rotation midway through the year. Of late, he has been very effective, posting a 3.46 ERA and a 44:12 K:BB ratio over his last 10 appearances (52 innings). He could take Anderson's spot in the rotation if Anderson is activated by the A's.
Outfielder Shane Peterson has continued to swing the bat well since his promotion to Triple-A in early July. In 28 games, his .383/.473/.617 slash line with the River Cats has made Peterson one of the many surprise stories from the A's organization in 2012.
"His swing is shorter," Bush said. "He's direct to the ball, he's got a solid approach, he's not afraid to take a walk and he's using the whole field."
Both Bush and Sparks commended Peterson for his improved approach after putting together a solid stint with the River Cats last year before being sent back to Midland midseason thanks to a roster crunch. He was also forced to return to Midland to kick off the 2012 season thanks to the same roster clog. Peterson hit .293/.377/.479 in 46 games with Sacramento in 2011.
"He's showing power that I've never seen before. In the past when he would pull the ball, he had a lot of top-spin and not much carry. Now he's driving through it," Sparks said.
It's possible Peterson could see his first major league action with the A's when rosters are expanded in September, although he might have a hard time getting at-bats in Oakland's crowded outfield, barring injury.
Grant Green has also continued to put together a solid run in 2012 despite being forced to play all over the field for the River Cats. This month it appears the A's are hoping he can settle in at second base, where he's made the majority of his starts in August.
This month Green has an 834 OPS with a pair of home runs and has surpassed his coaches' expectations with his productivity at the plate.
"He's shown that he can drive the ball," Sparks said.
"He has home run power even though he never looks to hit a home run. He's a tremendous hitter with tremendous hands. Within that, learning different positions, it's beyond expectations for me."