Jed Lowrie, Josh Reddick

The Athletics are killing it in the run differential department

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If you’re the type who likes to use run differential as a quick and dirty gauge of a team’s talent, you’re probably very impressed with the Athletics thus far. Sunday’s 13-3 victory over the Indians leaves them 3.5 games ahead of the Angels for first place in the AL West. The win also brought their run differential to a staggering +95, putting them on pace for +350 over a full season. Typically, the best teams finish in the +150-200 area.

The Athletics have nine players, minimum 80 plate appearances, with an above-average wRC+ which is a Sabermetric stat that individually weights each of the various components in which a player contributes offensively. 100 is average. Reddick is close to joining the list at 94.

Dan Straily has been the only starter who hasn’t done a good job, posting a 4.93 ERA before his recent demotion to Triple-A Sacramento. Scott Kazmir has been a godsend and Jesse Chavez has been a surprise, seeing as he was an emergency addition to the rotation when Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin succumbed to injuries. And Sonny Gray has been as good as he advertised last season. In the bullpen, off-season acquisition Jim Johnson has been the only unreliable contributor.

Many are gawking at the Tigers and they’re not wrong for doing so, but the Athletics are looking like the American League’s best team, at least at this point in the season. The Tigers are the second-best team in baseball in terms of run differential, but they’re a whopping 44 runs behind the Athletics. It’s only fitting that the Athletics and the Tigers are the class of the American League at this point, though, as they were foes in last year’s ALDS, with the Tigers narrowly escaping the five-game set.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this:

Tony Clark responds to Rob Manfred’s claim that union had a “lack of cooperation”

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, JAN. 18-19 - This Jan. 15, 2014 photo showing new baseball union head Tony Clark during an interview at the organization's headquarters, in New York. Clark has big shoes to fill _ and not just as Michael Weiner's replacement as head of the baseball players' union. Moving from Arizona to New Jersey, the former big league All-Star also needed to find size 15 snowshoes.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
AP Photo/Richard Drew
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Earlier, Craig covered Rob Manfred’s comments in which he accused the Major League Baseball Players’ Association of “a lack of cooperation” concerning some proposed rule changes. The union would need to agree to any such changes, which have included automatic intentional walks, limiting mound visits, pitch clocks, and swapping batting practice times for home and visiting teams.

Manfred went on to say that MLB will impose those rule changes unilaterally next year as allowed in the latest collective bargaining agreement.

Tony Clark, the executive director of the MLBPA, responded to Manfred’s comment. Via Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:

“Unless your definition of ‘cooperation’ is blanket approval, I don’t agree that we’ve failed to cooperate with the Commissioner’s office on these issues.”

“Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this off season we’ve been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened.”

“I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don’t continue, notwithstanding today’s comments about implementation. As I’ve said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open.”

“My understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2min limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of Game warning/fine adjustments.”

Clark’s response isn’t anything too shocking. Manfred’s accusation was pretty baseless, but it’s behavior to be expected of a commissioner who comes down on the side of the owners over the players almost always.