Just ten days ago the A’s had just returned from a ten-game East Coast road trip in which they went 7-3, with the red-hot offense scoring a total of 60 runs. Things were looking good, with one major exception — slugger, lineup staple, and fan favorite Khris Davis had suffered a groin strain on a check swing in the final game of the trip. He landed on the 10-day disabled list.
In Davis’ nine-game absence the A’s have gone 3-6 and scored just a quarter of the number of runs that they had scored on the road trip with 15. The team who had been shut out just twice in the 47 games prior to the loss of Davis, has been shut out in three games since. It certainly makes one wonder: Is Davis that critical to the A’s offense?
He may just be. However, Davis isn’t the only hitter with power in the lineup. Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Chad Pinder, Marcus Semien and veteran Matt Joyce to name a few, have been known to hit the long ball. While it’s true that the majority of those players are still young and will most likely only improve with time, this was an important time for them to all step up and together make up for the offense they lost when Davis was put on the DL. For whatever reason, they just weren’t up for the task, but they should have been.
The moment Davis was out of the lineup, the A’s usually potent offense went missing (I’d have put up posters and offered a reward if someone, anyone would’ve been able to find it, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t how this works!). Wednesday night, while admittedly it was not a great night for A’s ace Sean Manaea, the A’s offense managed just a single hit off the bat of Lowrie in the seventh inning off of Rays’ reliever Wilmer Font (Font? Font pitched for two whole innings and the A’s could only get a single? Seriously, A’s?).
Up until Lowrie’s hit, the A’s had been no-hit by Rays’ starter and six-year MLB veteran Nathan Eovaldi. Despite his veteran status Eovaldi was making his very first start since August 10, 2016 with the New York Yankees. He recently underwent his second Tommy John procedure and another elbow surgery to clean up “loose bodies” this spring. One would think that with even with veteran status, Eovaldi not having pitched in almost two years would have been something the A’s could have taken advantage of offensively — obviously not.
During their most recent road trip the A’s were, as noted, 7-3 with 60 runs scored. They were up against two of the hottest teams in the game right now — the Boston Red Red Sox and the Yankees. The Toronto Blue Jays were a game ahead of them in the A.L. standings before the A’s swept them in the final four-game series of the road trip. During that time the A’s were collectively batting .267/.342/.488 with 21 doubles, a triple and 19 home runs. They had an 8.8 percent walk rate and 23.5 percent strikeout rate.
Compare those stats to the numbers that they have put up since coming home and playing easier teams. They A’s three wins have come against the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks who are more formidable opponents than the Rays, but not as daunting as the Red Sox and Yankees. Since returning home from the East Coast the team has batted a despicable .155/.212/.245 with 11 doubles and a mere five home runs (again, that is as a team). Their walk rate was lower at 6.4 percent and, not surprisingly, their strike out rate rose to 24.1 percent.
It can’t possibly be all about the loss of Davis, can it? One player can’t win a baseball game on his own. However, on the other hand, it is somewhat impossible to deny his offensive value even beyond the actual number of balls he hits out of the yard. Having him in the number four spot in the lineup also helps protect the hitters around him, making it more likely for them to see good pitches to hit.
Davis frightens pitchers and he should. In the past two seasons with the A’s, Davis has hit 85 home runs — 42 in 2016 and another 43 in 2017. He has been on pace so far this season to hit another 40, ranking ninth in MLB with 13 at the time of his injury and leading the A’s. His 38 RBI were enough to have him in third in MLB. Just before he was sidelined, Davis’ stat line read: .235/.307/.497, 118 wRC+, 13 HR, 7.3% BB, 25.9% Ks.
Of all the A’s players only Lowrie may have had a better batting line, but he isn’t a guy that is threatening to pitchers, especially given his long history of injuries. Plus, Lowrie isn’t on his way to his third straight 40 homer season. Davis, of course is. If he does hit another 40 home runs this season he would join Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx, who hit 40+ long balls in three consecutive seasons (1932-1934), as the only the second player in Athletics’ franchise history to accomplish that feat. That alone should be and seemingly tends to be intimidating to pitchers. Davis is finally starting to be recognized as one of the elite power hitters in the game.
Will the return of Davis on Thursday reinvigorate A’s offense that seems to have vanished from the Earth? It’s hard to say. They could simply be in an extremely coincidental collective slump, as Olson, Chapman and most of the others really should have been able to step up in Davis’ absence but couldn’t. Or they might simply need his presence in the lineup to intimidate pitchers, hit homers, inspire the others and re-kick start the offense we so recently saw on their last road trip. lt appears that we will find out the answer soon enough.