This was a must-win series for the A's and they came through when it counted. Fueled by excellent offensive performances by Billy Butler and Danny Valencia, and behind a great Sean Manaea start, the A's completed the sweep by a score of 5-1.
Fun fact: After this game, the (Oakland) A's and Twins have a record of exactly 1000-1000 against each other.
Valencia and Butler Tag-Team
The A's offense was solid all-around today, though Butler and Valencia were the standout players. The A's got at least one hit in each of the first six innings, and scored exactly one run in each of innings 2-6. When the Twins got on the board after Manaea's shaky 6th (discussed below), the A's did what they've done all series and take that run right back so the Twins couldn't make up any ground.
Billy Butler hit a leadoff standup double in the 2nd inning, and I’m begging y’all, can someone please make a GIF of him rounding first? His hustle was fantastic; he really came chugging around the turn. Smolinski worked a walk and then with 2 outs, in the midst of a long Billy Burns at-bat full of fouled pitches, a wild pitch allowed Billy "Hustle" Butler to advance to third (and Smolinski to second). Burns hit a chopper over the mound and beat the throw to first base to allow one run to score, but Smolinski inexplicably went home and was thrown out by more than 10 feet. We’re running into way too many outs at home this year, again. It’s unclear whether this one is on Smolinski or third base coach Ron Washington, but either way, it’s unacceptable how often this has happened.
Danny Valencia continues to look absolutely locked in. In the 1st inning he lined yet another double into left center, continuing his streak of hard contact. And he ran hard this time to get the extra base! In the 3rd inning, he hit an absolute bomb to left field that just barely hooked foul. After a long at-bat, he ultimately singled to put Lowrie in scoring position. With 2 outs, Billy Butler came through yet again, waiting on an offspeed pitch to rope a ball into left and drive Lowrie home. 2-0 A’s.
Smolinski got the pitch he was looking for in the bottom of the 4th, launching one of Dean’s many inside fastballs to left field for a home run to make the score 3-0 Oakland.
Valencia is an absolute machine. After a Lowrie leadoff single in the 5th, Valencia clubbed another ball to left field AND HUSTLED AGAIN to barely turn the hit into a double. Davis hit a ball deep into foul territory that Kepler made a nice running play to catch, but Lowrie scored from third base and Khris Davis got a sacrifice fly. 4-0 Oakland. The Twins sought to take advantage of Billy Butler’s minimal speed and Phegley’s terrible at-bats on the day by walking Butler to set up the double play, and it worked out exactly as they planned. To contrast Butler and Valencia, Phegley did NOT look good at the plate at all today, with a GIDP and a strikeout.
Ryan Pressly came out to pitch for the Twins in the bottom of the 6th. Semien kicked things off with an infield single and promptly stole second. A Burns groundout advanced him to 3rd and then Coco hit a hanging breaking ball to score Semien, 5-1 Oakland.
The A's were largely shut down in the last couple of innings, but the damage had already been done.
Manaea: Shaky, then Great
Sean Manaea had some hiccups today but overall pitched a very solid game, going 6 innings with 8 strikeouts and only 1 earned run (and sporting a pitch count where he probably could have gone 7 innings, had Bob Melvin seen fit).
Manaea flashed some ability to field his position, a big concern for his overall game, for the first out of the game. He had to hustle and cover first on a groundball to Butler.
After allowing multiple baserunners the first two innings, Manaea settled down the second time through the order. He gave up one hit in the 3rd inning and had a 1-2-3 4th inning with two strikeouts. His fastball was getting up to 93, which is closer to the mid-90s that was advertised in the minors but still on the lower end of what was expected in terms of velocity. Hopefully we’ll start seeing more of the 93-96 mentioned in scouting reports soon.
Manaea got two more strikeouts in the 5th against hot-hitting Twins Eduardo Nuñez and Robbie Grossman, both on 86mph changeups. At the end of the 5th, Manaea had retired 8 batters in a row.
And then, for no particular reason, the wheels kind of came off in the top of the 6th. Manaea gave up two walks and a single to load the bases with nobody out. Was this another dreaded loss of focus, like what he described after a recent start? Escobar hit a ball softly to third base for what looked like a surefire double play, but it went foul by inches and he ended up hitting a sac fly to center field for the first out to score the Twins' only run of the game. Manaea came roaring back, getting a 3-pitch strikeout (on a 93mph high fastball) and a bizarre checked swing strikeout to escape the inning with minimal damage. He may have lost control momentarily in the disconcerting way we’ve seen before, but he didn’t let it get him too far off his game.
Dull came out to pitch the 7th. I wasn't a huge fan of this move; Manaea’s pitch count was under 90 and despite the shaky 6th inning, he had had a good day and probably could have gone deeper into the game, especially with a 4-run lead. Dull gave up a leadoff single and a walk but no runs scored thanks in part to a nice defensive play by Semien.
Shout-out to Old School Doo
Sean Doolittle looked absolutely fantastic in the 8th inning, retiring the Twins 1-2-3 with a couple of strikeouts. His fastball hit 96 and he was locating as well as ever. I don't really have much else to say, but I thought Doolittle's recent dominance/return to form from a couple years ago deserved its own section. It's been incredibly fun to watch.
We saw lots of fundamentally sound baseball today, and hopefully this is a harbinger of more good things to come. The A's have an off day tomorrow before a 3-game series in Houston starting Friday at 5:05. They're sporting a 5-game winning streak and are looking to build on this great momentum.