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Ample Positives Amidst The 6-10 Start

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

If it weren’t for starts by pitchers whose names begin with “G” (I’m looking at you, Raveman and Ossett), who knows how the season might be going? Overall there have been plenty of disappointments, from losing games in which the team scored 8 and 9 runs, to failing to win any of the first 5 series, to outfield defense and middle relief that has left something to be desired.

All that explains 10 losses in the team’s first 16 games, but there have been positives too. Anyone who thinks the A’s aren’t worth watching isn’t, well, watching. Or perhaps just doesn’t appreciate the great baseball that can take place in between doing “just enough to lose”.

Jed Lowrie

I don’t know if it’s that he’s “vanilla” — Lowrie doesn’t exactly exude personality — or that he is prone to whining about most every strike called against him, but I have never really taken to Jed until now. Suddenly, though, I have an incredible appreciation for how good he has become since solving his sleep apnea, staying on the field, and really resurrected a career known mostly for his myriad maladies.

Lowrie’s at bats are nearly perfect in form, time and time again. Jed knows exactly what pitches he can hit, what pitches he believes to be strikes or balls, and he has an approach from which he will not deviate (if only his septum had known how not to deviate). Lowrie is incredibly consistent in his approach, always ready to pounce on a hittable pitch and always willing to take a pitch he cannot, or feels he should not have to, hit no matter what the count.

Lowrie’s approach is so good that I truly believe — and this is not hyperbole — that if Franklin Barreto is studying those at bats and taking notes, then his time on the bench these past 2 weeks has been more valuable to him than if he had been playing every day somewhere. Add just 20% of Lowrie’s disciplined and methodical approach to hitting to Barreto’s tool box and Barreto is guaranteed to be a star. Here’s hoping it has sunk in at some level.

Oh, by the way all this has resulted in Lowrie batting .339/.397/.532 so far in 2018 and while no one expects him to keep that up all season it is also worth mentioning that there has been nothing fluky about it. He is currently on pace for an 8.1 WAR season.

Matt Chapman

Much has been said about Chapman that does not need to be repeated here, and the numbers (.351/.413/.684, gold glove defense, 17.5% K-rate, on pace for 13 WAR), but it is watching him day in and day out that is so special.

This series alone Chapman made two improbably brilliant plays to cut down Dee Gordon trying to bunt for a base hit, and watching those plays I think it is fair to suggest that Chapman is fully capable of charging a bunt and throwing out the speed of light so long as the speed of light is batting right-handed. (I mean come on, if the speed of light gets out of the box from the left side even Chapman probably can’t record the out. Or can he...?)

All this while spraying balls to all fields, a couple into the bleachers, and right now even many of his outs are lasers that find gloves. The significance of this is that the A’s can rarely afford a star — they certainly cannot sign one on the free agent market — but it appears for all the world as if Oakland has a bonafide star under contract for 6 years, very affordably for 3.

Sean Manaea

The velocity is down but they can’t hit him. Despite throwing his fastball mostly 89-90 MPH, Manaea has allowed just 16 hits in 27.2 IP (and he has mixed in only 4 walks).

In the first 16 games, an A’s starting pitchers has completed as many as 6 IP only three times. All three times it has been Manaea, completing at least 7 IP each of those starts. The rotation may be shaky overall but it has been rock solid with Manaea, who has given the A’s length and quality to anchor the group.

Blake Treinen

The A’s haven’t needed Treinen as much as they would have liked, and as a result the A’s closer has pitched only 5 times so far this season. But in those 5 appearances we have seen all the ways in which Treinen is special.

Treinen actually likes to work a lot, so while Oakland hasn’t been able to call for him often they have been able to ask him to go more than an inning when he does pitch. 4 of Treinen’s 5 appearances have been multi-inning stints, getting 4, 5, 6, and 6 outs.

Treinen hasn’t allowed an earned run — which is unusual for a pitcher who has allowed a HR, but those runs were unearned thanks to a Chapman error the batter before. Still, that HR is pretty much the only blemish on his record, as the combination of a 97-98 MPH sinker, and a sharp, late-breaking slider, have sent most hitters whimpering and seeking comfort in their mothers’ arms. Today’s save, a 4-out save, ended with a strikeout of A’s-and-also-most-everyone-else killer Nelson Cruz and a weak comebacker off the bat of Kyle Seager. Nasty, nasty stuff.

Honorable mention goes to Matt Olson’s smooth defense, Jonathan Lucroy gunning down 6 of 10 would be base stealers, Andrew Triggs continuing to be surprisingly effective (at least in 5 IP spurts) as a SP, Daniel Mengden pitching far better than his stats would suggest, and Khris Davis snapping out of a funk to hit HRs like they are going out of style.

Imagine how fun it will be when the A’s actually win a series, string together a few wins, put it all together at once...One can dream. For now, one can at least watch because there is actually plenty that is worth watching.