Another week, another sweep for the Oakland Athletics. That's the third straight week in which the A's have swept a series, and the fifth in the last six weeks. Measuring it by calendar weeks is kind of arbitrary, so instead just consider that it's May 20 and the A's have already swept five different teams. (Twins, Astros, Rangers, Nationals, Indians)
Overall, the A's went 5-1 against the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians. Every part of the team was rolling, with the lone exception being another late-inning bullpen collapse that led to the only loss of the week. Oakland is now tied with the Giants for the Major League lead with 28 wins, but San Francisco has one extra loss. The A's trail only the Tigers in winning percentage and hold a four-game advantage over the Angels in the AL West. They're not perfect, but they're getting the job done and putting themselves in a great position in the standings entering the heat of the summer.
The real story, though, is their run differential. The A's lead baseball with a mark of plus-95, which is not only head and shoulders above the next-best team (Detroit, plus-54) but ranks among the best differentials in all of history through the first 44 games of a season. The path to such a lopsided number is simple -- Oakland leads the AL in scoring and is second in run prevention. It also helps that the green and gold outscored Chicago and Cleveland 48-14 last week. The A's tore apart their pitching staffs, putting up double-digit runs three times in six games and notching 32 extra-base hits, including 11 home runs. Here's a look at the some of the best individual performances, as well as the major story lines from the week.
Brandon Moss was named the AL Player of the Week for the third time in his career on Monday. He batted .455/.556/1.182 with three homers, five doubles, a triple, 11 RBI, and five walks to only four strikeouts. On Tuesday, he hit a pair of homers and a double and drove in five in an 11-0 victory over Chicago. On Friday, he sparked Oakland's eight-run second inning with a leadoff double. On Saturday, he homered and doubled to provide support on a day in which the bullpen had to record 23 outs. And on Sunday, he reached base in all five of his plate appearances, with two doubles, a triple, and a pair of walks, and he also scored four runs. He was a monster during a week in which the team played like a juggernaut.
For the season, Moss is hitting .301/.393/.582 with an AL-leading OPS+ of 175. What's more, he's hitting lefties, although it's probably just a small-sample mirage. He's hit them to the tune of .346/.414/.538 in 29 plate appearances, but the fact that he's also struck out in nine of those at-bats does not signal to me that he's figured out southpaws. My belief is only strengthened when considering that, overall, Moss is striking out less than he ever has. Like, a lot less:
|Year||K%||K% vs. RHP||K% vs. LHP|
(K% = percentage of plate appearances resulting in a strikeout)
Keep in mind that Moss received fewer than 100 plate appearances against lefties in both 2012 and '13, so that's why those rates fluctuate so wildly (and serves as a good lesson regarding working with small samples). His main body of work comes against right-handers, and he's been improving his strikeout rate significantly in each season as an Athletic. Even if that rate creeps back up to 18 or 19 percent, a guy who can slug like Moss while putting the ball in play that often is extremely dangerous. Moss doesn't walk a ton, but he won't need to the way he's currently going. If he can keep the strikeouts as low as he's got them now, then forget Player of the Week -- the numbers that result are going to earn him MVP votes.
The other hitters are pretty good, too
Moss may have gotten the national attention, but Josh Donaldson had nearly as good of a week. He batted .471/.571/1.118 with three homers, a triple, and eight RBI. His home run on Monday put the A's on top for good against John Danks and the White Sox, his homer on Tuesday gave the A's a lead that they blew in the ninth, and his "triple" on Saturday (which was actually a home run but was Angel Hernandez'd by the New York replay review team) gave Oakland a pair of insurance runs late in a close game. He currently leads the AL in bWAR, and ranks behind only Mike Trout in the AL in fWAR.
Meanwhile, Josh Reddick showed some serious signs of breaking out of the slump that started in the second half of 2012. He batted .348/.400/.870 with three homers, a triple, and 10 RBI last week, highlighted by a two-homer, 6-RBI performance on Friday in which he hit the team's first grand slam of the season. Don't look now, but Reddick's OPS+ is up to 95 -- despite the fact that his OBP hasn't quite cracked .300, he's been just about a league-average hitter this year. A productive Reddick would make this stacked lineup even stronger.
The darlings of the previous week, catchers John Jaso and Derek Norris, cooled off a bit but still combined for four doubles and a homer.
RBI? Aye Aye!
I know that RBI is a silly stat. You probably know that RBI is a silly stat. It's opportunity-driven, and thus fails to separate individual performance from overall team success. But Moss is tied with Miguel Cabrera for second in the AL (39), Donaldson is fifth (35), and Yoenis Cespedes is tied for 13th (27). The AL leader, Jose Abreu, just went on the DL, so at least Moss and Donaldson are likely to move up the list. Guys, let's care about RBI just for a minute while our players are doing well in that category. Shut up and don't judge me.
Welcome, Kyle Blanks!
The A's acquired Kyle Blanks to serve as the backup first baseman and right-handed power bat. He replaced Daric Barton on the roster, which we have already discussed plenty. Let's just sit back and enjoy Blanks collecting his first hit as an Athletic in his first at-bat with the team.
Provided with no further comment
Here is Scott Kazmir getting ejected from a game in the second inning for ... some reason. Check out Evan Kendall's write-up of the event for more on this ridiculous call, which fortunately did not cost the A's the game. Also have a look at this article on Baseball Prospectus, which suggests that Derek Norris didn't do Kazmir any favors with an unnecessary frame-job.
Deja vu all over again
On May 8, 2013, Adam Rosales was robbed of a home run off the railing above the wall in left-center in Progressive Field in Cleveland, when umpire Angel Hernandez accidentally watched replays of the movie Major League instead of the actual play.
On May 17, 2014, Josh Donaldson was robbed of a home run off the railing above the wall in left-center in Progressive Field in Cleveland, when the New York replay review crew didn't find conclusive evidence that it cleared the wall because they don't understand the laws of physics. The ball hit within 50 feet of where Rosales' shot landed.
Deja vu is the damndest thing. And maybe they should set up a better camera angle in Progressive Field.
The bullpen continues to struggle
On Monday, the bullpen was handed a three-run lead and asked to record three outs. Fernando Abad and Jim Johnson allowed two runs to cross the plate before Sean Doolittle ended things with the tying run on second (I later heard on the radio that he thought there was a two-run lead and that he didn't know the tying run was on base). On Wednesday, Abad entered with a two-run lead in the 8th and put a pair of runners on base; Luke Gregerson then came in and allowed a home run to blow the save and, ultimately, lose the game.
Johnson is a mess, as he had another poor outing in Cleveland on Sunday. Abad's magic has worn off for now, as he's allowed five runs over five innings in his last six games and just hasn't looked as sharp as he did in April. Gregerson leads the Majors with five blown saves; only Rex Brothers of Colorado even has four. There's been no word on Ryan Cook's injury.
But the news isn't all bad. Dan Otero went big on Saturday in relief of Kazmir's shortened outing, recording 11 outs while throwing only 32 pitches. His efficient performance kept the team in the game and lowered his ERA to 1.78. Sean Doolittle is now up to 28 strikeouts on the year and hasn't walked a batter in a regular-season game since August 31, 2013. And the team added a new reinforcement in the form of veteran starter Jeff Francis, who will serve as the long reliever.
Tom and Pom
The lefties at the back of Oakland's rotation came up big for the second week in a row. On Tuesday, Drew Pomeranz matched his debut start by tossing five shutout innings -- he's now thrown 10 scoreless innings in his two starts, with five hits, two walks and 13 strikeouts. Milone followed him with six frames of one-run ball, including four strikeouts and no walks.
This team just gets better and better every week.