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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Best record aside, A's taking nothing for granted

Guided by brilliant Melvin, AL West leaders taking it one game at a time

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OAKLAND -- Peace, love and the A's.

One center fielder, Craig Gentry, may have saved Friday's game with a highlight-reel sliding catch. Another, Coco Crisp, comes off the bench to drive in the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning.

"You need an entire roster," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said.

The A's have done this kind of thing so often, it's not even a surprise anymore. It's just how they do things around there.

Wait, there's more. The starting pitcher, Brad Mills, lasts only four innings. Behind him, four relievers toss five shutout innings.

"We count on picking each other up," catcher Derek Norris said.

Yeah, that's true. Don't get fooled, though. Oakland is the real deal. The A's are talented and they're deep.

Anyway, when all was said and done Friday night, the A's had beaten the Red Sox, 4-3, to run their record to 46-28, the best in baseball.

Oakland's six-game lead in the American League West is the largest in any division. The A's have scored the most runs and have the lowest ERA. Their run differential is an insane plus-135. How insane? The Giants are next in all of baseball at plus-44.

Here's perhaps the most impressive number of all, a tribute to Oakland's numbing consistency. The A's have had 12 consecutive winning months, the longest for the franchise in 42 years.

So as Oakland attempts to win the AL West for a third consecutive year, it's easy for some of us to project how good the club might look in October.

Can we sell that to the A's?

"It's a long season," Crisp said. "Do I feel this is the best team in baseball? That's a hard question to answer, even though I have all the confidence in our ballclub. Everybody would like to believe their team is the best in baseball. As of now, we have the best record. Hopefully we can continue to play that way."

As the A's will tell you, all the numbers in the world guarantee them nothing in October. They were good in 2012 and '13, but their season ended against the Tigers both times.

Nevertheless, it's impressive. These A's are expertly constructed, smartly managed. They have a tremendous core of veteran players.

In a system that mixes and matches players depending on the situation, the players focus on the bottom line. If it's the right thing for the A's, then it's the right thing for all the A's.

"They know," Melvin said. "They know that just because you don't start a game doesn't mean you might be the biggest impact player in the game. They know we're going to match up here, for the most part. It keeps everybody fresh, everybody ready, keeps everybody involved, which leads to great team chemistry."

Some of that chemistry is a tribute to Melvin. No manager in baseball is better at communicating with his players and sensing what needs to be said, either individually or as a club.

Melvin's secret may be a core decency. When he speaks to his players, it's with no agenda. Melvin simply is interested in winning and asks that his players see the world through the same lens.

"He's a player's coach," Norris said. "He's got your back whenever something goes awry. He backs you up even if you're wrong. He's going to support you. People respond positively to that. He communicates well with all of us."

And some of that atmosphere comes from having the right kind of guys. Again, though, it's important not to oversell that part of it.

Oakland has chemistry and a cohesive clubhouse and all that stuff. The A's are also really good at just about every aspect of the game.

General manager Billy Beane has worked his genius up and down the roster. Melvin makes it all work.

And the leadership and fire in the room comes from almost every corner, including third baseman Josh Donaldson, who may be the AL's Most Valuable Player for the first half of the season.

Donaldson (55), Brandon Moss (55) and Yoenis Cespedes (49) are all ranked in the top eight in RBIs in the AL. All three of them are in the top 12 in home runs as well.

And there are the catchers -- Norris, John Jaso and Stephen Vogt. Melvin runs 'em in and out, plays 'em here, there and everywhere. In terms of offensive production, Oakland's catchers lead the AL in almost every offensive category.

Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir are at the top of a rotation that has been terrific. Bullpen? That's taken care of, too. At the back of it, closer Sean Doolittle has one walk and 50 strikeouts in 35 innings. What's not to like?

Best team in baseball?

"We just play," Melvin said. "At this point in time, we have a good record, but we don't take anything for granted. We know over the course of a season, things are going to swing back and forth. To this point in time, we've played well. We really don't look farther than the next game."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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