The A's are still technically the worst team in the American League. But they are finally playing like the team we expected coming into this year. For the first time all season, the A's have won three in a row. These aren't cheap wins, either; they've accomplished this against a couple of contenders. And they've managed to lower my stress level significantly in the process!
Unfortunately the early hole dug by the bullpen and the defense has these A's at just 17-30, but hey, it's a start. Three wins is three wins, and more importantly, how they've won has been encouraging. The key to this win streak, as is the case with most win streaks, has been sparking starting pitching. When you get good starting pitching, you use the bullpen less. When you use the bullpen less, you're not using your worst relievers. When you don't use your worst relievers, you get these kinds of results:
- Saturday: 5-0 (Graveman)
- Sunday: 7-2 (Gray)
- Today: 4-0 (Hahn - final line: 9 IP, 0 ER, 5K, 4 hits, 1 BB)
Lest I forget, the other key to this win streak has been the return of Ron Washington. I'm not sure exactly what tangible difference he's made so far (Max Muncy and Marcus Semien combined for three errors on the left side) but I have to assume that some of the tension has eased. Bringing a new personality in, especially one as big and super positive as Wash, has to have changed a bit of the atmosphere. Maybe it's just coincidence, but it doesn't really matter because now the team has some happy moments and some confidence and it all started with Wash. Does it really matter if the narrative is true or false if everyone buys into it?
By the time Jesse Hahn finished the 8th inning, he'd already gone deeper than he'd ever gone in a Major League game. By the time he stepped off the mound, he had the complete game of his entire professional career. And today he had his sinker working. Going inside and outside to both lefties and righties, he was able to keep the sinker down and generate a lot of ground balls. Unlike previous games where A's pitchers tended to spiral out of control after an error Hahn followed up the aforementioned errors with double play balls on two occasions and got the third out on the other one. Nails.
Hahn was having significant trouble locating his curveball, but that got better as the game went on. He had a beautiful one in the 7th, and another in the 8th, being able to locate in the zone and in the dirt when he needed to. I still think this can be a good pitch for him, although as Mark Mulder noted it is slower and has less bite. That leads to less swing and misses, but in my opinion if he does have that nice 12-6 action it's very hard to make solid contact.
The A's offense did their part, albeit with a bit of luck.
Shane Greene was matching Hahn pitch for pitch until Josh Reddick lined a one out triple in the bottom of the fourth. Anthony Gose might have held him to a double if he had properly played the carom, but he thought he could catch it. That being said it wasn't an easy judgment and Reddick hit the ball on the screws, so it was moving quickly.
Either way, the A's had Reddick on third with just one out, and Stephen Vogt grounded into a shallow shift on the right side preventing Reddick from scoring. Vogt missed a big time meatball on that. An easy pitch to loft that caught a lot of the plate, he just overswung and sent it to the ground. Billy Butler followed with a broken bat liner and the threat was over. Familiar feelings set in.
Nevertheless, the A's finally broke through in the sixth. Semien led off with a chopper to shortstop Dixon Machado, making his Major League debut. Machado made a nice play to grab it but the running throw was offline, allowing Semien to reach. Josh Reddick followed with his second hit, a liner to left that moved Semien to third with no outs. Stephen Vogt again came up with an RBI opportunity. The ESPN announcers all game were heaping praise on him, educating the national audience on the fact that this guy is one of the best hitters in the AL. Unfortunately, he popped it up and the runners were stuck. Billy "GIDP" Butler followed with a sharp groundball, but this time it wasn't right to a fielder. Machado had to range and went the short way. However Reddick was running on the pitch and made it to second safely.
A couple feet over and Butler's shot is an inning-ending double play, but this time everyone's safe, the run scores, Billy Butler gets an infield single (ha!) and the dam is broken. After that, Max "Munch" Muncy lined a double to left, scoring Reddick. 2-0 A's.
Mark Canha came up and gave it a ride, sac fly, Butler chugging home, 3-0. Sam Fuld brought his sub-.200 average to the plate, but lefties were hitting over .300 against Greene coming into the game and finally we got to see some of that, with Fuld doubling in Muncy. 4-0 and Greene was out of the game.
The A's threatened in the 8th with first and third, nobody out, but stranded everyone per usual. However, today, the first run was all Hahn needed to notch the shutout and give the A's three in a row.
Special thanks to Brad Ausmus for giving Miguel Cabrera a scheduled day off today. This game could have gone quite differently with him in the lineup. But then again, the way Hahn was pitching it may not have mattered.
Finally, the offseason trades are bearing fruit, and the farm system is producing something. Are we finally seeing the rebuild come together?
-The crowd gave a nice ovation for Yoenis Cespedes his first time up. Cespedes batted cleanup and finished 0-3 with a walk.
- It was great having Mark Mulder as a color analyst on this game for ESPN. He had nothing but love for Oakland and told some funny stories back from the Moneyball days.