Two weeks ago, the Oakland A’s were swept at home by the Astros. The losses dropped them down below .500, right as they were looking forward to a daunting 10-game road trip against the toughest opponents the AL East has to offer. They faced a mighty challenge, and they jumped in with virtually no momentum and an ice-cold lineup.
And then, the A’s woke up. By the time they boarded their plane back to Oakland they’d gone 7-3 on the trip, splitting six against the MLB-best Yankees and Red Sox and then finishing it off with a four-game sweep over the Blue Jays. What’s more, that record really should have been 8-2, but for being robbed in one of the Yankee games on a replay review that incorrectly scrubbed out the winning run. They now stand at 25-22, just 4½ games out of their division and 2½ out of the second Wild Card.
The pitching was fine, doing enough to get by but not truly starring. In particular, the bullpen played hero a couple times when starters Andrew Triggs and Brett Anderson were injured in the early innings in back-to-back games; the relievers gutted through 14⅔ innings in those two games, salvaging a pair of wins amid the adverse circumstances. Closer Blake Treinen converted all five of his save attempts, allowing just three baserunners along the way.
However, the story of the road trip was the lineup. They were mired in a wretched slump when they left home, but they quickly found their bats in the hitter-friendly AL East stadiums. Overall they scored 60 runs over the 10 games, with 19 homers and an .830 OPS. Twice they posted 10 runs in a game, with another at nine.
A’s road trip: .267/.342/.488, 19 HR, 41 XBH, 9.8% BB, 21.5% Ks
Here are some updated full-season team stats/ranks, including comparisons for where they were before the road trip:
- T-5th in wRC+ (107) (prev: 11th)
- 8th in runs/game (4.72) (prev: 16th)
- T-5th in HR (61), 5th in isolated slugging (.179) (prev: around average)
It’s no surprise that they hit for so much power, because they have the highest rate of hard-hit contact in all of MLB according to Sports Info Solutions (also true via FanGraphs’ measure). Even better, they’re no longer relying on a high BABIP for their success, as they’ve dropped to 7th in that stat at a more sustainable .303 mark.
They’re about average in terms of plate discipline:
- 16th in walk rate (8.8%)
- 11th-highest strikeout rate (23.5%)
- 15th-highest swinging-strike rate (10.6%)
- 3rd-most pitches per plate appearance (4.07)
There are two takeaways from that list. First, the A’s work long, patient at-bats, which has helped them knock out opposing starters as early as possible. Second, they don’t strike out as much as you might think given their reputation as hard-swinging sluggers. There are certainly a few high K-rates in the lineup, from the dinger-heavy sources you’d expect, but it’s not a team-wide problem and they make plenty of contact overall.
Next, here’s a look at some individual numbers. Players are sorted in order of wRC+ (in parentheses):
- Jed Lowrie (157): Hasn’t really slowed down. Still hitting like an MVP.
- Matt Chapman (128): On defense, leads all 3B with +7 DRS (and 2nd in UZR).
- Chad Pinder (128): Played hero with game-winning grand slam in Toronto.
- Khris Davis (118): Maybe headed to disabled list with strained groin?
- Mark Canha (110): Cooled off in May but still a consistent contributor.
- Matt Olson (105): Signs of power, with three dingers on the trip.
- Jonathan Lucroy (101): Still no power, but plenty of contact.
- Matt Joyce (100): Stirring to life after another poor April.
- Marcus Semien (99): 3rd in position-player WAR behind Lowrie, Chapman.
- Dustin Fowler (90): Rookie was impressive in first MLB action.
- Stephen Piscotty (83): Defense looking much improved after several nice catches.
- Bruce Maxwell (49): Back with the team after skipping Canada trip.
That’s a lot of triple-digit wRC+ marks to choose from. As for the road trip, the primary star on offense was Chapman with his 1.206 OPS in 42 plate appearances.
Chapman, road trip: 13-for-34, .382/.500/.706, 2 HR, 5 doubles, 8 BB, 10 Ks
He wasn’t alone, though. All the Matts were good, with Olson (3 HR, .920 OPS) and Joyce (3 HR, .822 OPS) also chipping in. Khrush did some khrushing and also collected some hits that stayed in the park (4 HR, .308 average, .998 OPS), and Semien hit safely in 9-of-10 games with multiple hits in six of them (2 HR, .319 average, .829 OPS). Pinder turned a loss into a win with his clutch blast, and Fowler also carried the team to one victory almost single-handedly. This was a team effort, and that bodes well for their ability to pick up the slack for however long Khrush has to miss with his new injury.
It’s still only May, which means we don’t know everything about who this team is. The lineup has shown that it’s supremely talented but also inconsistent, and already this season we’ve seen stretches when it looks like the best and the worst in the sport — the offense truly is for real, but with the reminder that there will also be slumps mixed in just like all teams experience. However, the pitching is still a huge question mark, with injuries continuing to pile up and test the staff’s depth to its limits. The 8-2 record in one-run games is the best in MLB and doesn’t necessarily have to continue.
Just as we were wise not to panic during the low times, let’s not get too cocky about the good times either. The A’s are riding high right now and we should definitely enjoy that, but there are still four months to go and there’s a lot left to prove. The one thing we can still say for sure is that this is no longer a last-place team, neither literally (8 games ahead of Texas) nor figuratively. Oakland is officially on the way back up after a long, dark, rebuilding period, and they just had their national coming-out party on what was supposed to be the Road Trip of Death.
Welcome home, A’s! Now let’s improve on that 9-17 divisional record as the Mariners come to town.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora on the A's: "Those guys. Get them out of here. The quality of the at-bats, I was just telling somebody, that was uncomfortable, the way they foul off pitches. Even with two strikes, they’re doing damage."— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) May 17, 2018