Like the Dodgers, Oakland has suffered from the surprising failure of its starters lately, though the A's were still in position to advance to the postseason for the fifth straight year. (At week's end they held a one-game lead over the Angels and a two-game edge over the Rangers in the American League West.) Before this season no team had been better down the stretch than the A's, who were a major-league-best 70--30 in September from 2000 through '03. But through Sunday, Oakland had sputtered to a 10--14 mark this month. "I don't think we're terrible," said A's leftfielder Eric Byrnes last week. "On the other hand, we're not playing like a first-place team."
Fortunately for Oakland, neither was anyone else in its division. The Angels' potent offense had gone quiet (they were batting .256 and averaging 4.6 runs a game since Sept. 1, down from .288 and 5.2 a game before that), while the Rangers, 13--12 in September, lost two of three to the last-place Mariners last weekend after sweeping the A's in a three-game series earlier in the week. "Every team in the division has had its chance to take control, but every team has stumbled," says Texas designated hitter Brian Jordan.
The A's failed to pull away because their usually dominant starters, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito, have not been the fearsome trio of old. Through Sunday they were a collective 7--9 with a 5.80 ERA this month. Mulder's struggles have been the most troubling. Once the front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award--he was 17--4 on Aug. 24 but has been winless since--he has lost almost 5 mph on his fastball since the beginning of the season. He had a 5.79 ERA in his last 12 starts.
"I'm not doing the team any good," says Mulder. "I almost feel like a hitter who has gone 0 for 100. It's frustrating."