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Game #16: A's recover their precious run differential, win 9-2

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The feast-or-famine A’s managed to prove that they are not the only team with serious bullpen issues tonight, in a 9-2 trouncing of the hated Angels.

It’s easy to forget, but this game started off as a heated pitchers duel. Both pitchers game up one run in the early going. The A’s offense started out strong against Weaver, starting with a Fuld leadoff single and a stolen base. Stephen Vogt, who just keeps hitting at a ridiculous clip, moved him over to 3rd with a single of his own, and Billy Butler drove him in with a groundout. The smallball A’s, I guess.

The stolen base was one of big stories of tonight’s game. The A’s were the last team in the MLB to get a stolen base this year. But they are running at an astoundingly successful rate — 11 for 11. A team built around Stephen Vogt, Ike Davis, and Billy "Wheels" Butler doesn’t sound like especially speedy, but some of these guys can run. Semien, Canha, Fuld, and Sogard all walked away with stolen bases.

Jered Weaver managed to settle down after that, surrendering only that one run over his six innings. This is despite a fastball that obeys the speed limit. Facing the good version of  Weaver is seriously frustrating.

It was up to Sonny Gray to be the stopper. And he did his job, mostly. He allowed one run in the third inning, off of a double, wild pitch, and groundout. The Angels threatened in the 4th, loading the bases on back-to-back walks, but Sonny somehow managed to walk away without a scratch. After that, he entirely settled down and retired the next 11 batters in a row, before he exited with 95 pitches after the 7th inning.

In all, I think this was Sonny’s best start of the season. He may have walked two guys, a season high (!!!), but he also added 7 Ks and only allowed 2 hits.

Sonny’s moved a bit away from the strikeout, preferring to use his sinker and offspeed stuff in the zone to get groundball outs. That approach lets him be efficient, but it also leads to the propensity to get singled to death. My favorite version of Sonny is the one that pitches a bit wild, but strikes people out. So, so many things can go wrong with a groundball. Nothing can go wrong with a good old-fashioned strikeout.

The biggest story of tonight’s game was the offense, and the total bullpen collapse of the Angels in the 7th inning. The A’s batted around that inning, adding runs on a Vogt single (because he’s the best), a massive Butler homer, and a Brett Lawrie infield single.

Here’s a fun fact If you want to feel good about the 3-year commitment that is the Billy Butler deal: last year, Butler didn’t hit his second homer until June 14th last year. It’s mid-April, and he’s got three. Not, not bad. Especially if he continues hitting in the .360s, which I find totally reasonable.

The A’s added three more runs in the 8th inning, off of Mike Morin. This is a guy who had a 2.90 ERA last year, and peripherals that mostly backed that performance up. Bullpens are flukey and dumb and impossible to predict, hence the 7.11 ERA he now sports.

Scribner pitched a clean 8th inning. Bullpens are flukey and impossible to predict, but I really think Scribner is one of the 3 best arms currently in ours. He’s been mostly doing mop-up duty, which I find criminal. His fastball darts all over the place, his velocity is excellent, his curveball snaps. He has a 0.93 BB/9 rate, which is incredible. I really like 2015 Scribner, and it’d be fantastic for nostalgia if one of the 2012 heroes found a bigger role on the team.

Arnold Leon made his debut in the 9th inning, and it went okay. He allowed one run, which, if you’re making your MLB debut against two guys destined for the Hall of Fame (Mike Trout and Albert Pujols), is totally acceptable. The stuff was fine — 92 MPH fastball, decent curveball, a changeup that existed. He’ll be fine as a long reliever.

Thus, the A’s reversed last night’s script. This time, the Angels looked sloppy and bad at baseball, and the A’s were firing on all cylinders. That’s a nice feeling, even if this team is doomed to hang around .500 for all eternity.