What a fun first half- the A’s had a free game, Sean Manaea threw a no hitter against the best lineup in baseball, there has been an MLB-record setting home run streak, there was the tragic and redeeming arc of Stephen Piscotty, the emergence of Trivino and Treinen at the back of the pen, and so much more. Oh, and the A’s are just three games out of a playoff spot at the season’s quasi-halfway point, and have won twenty one of twenty six games while the team ahead of them in the standings has lost eight of eleven.
Today was a clean win, that it many ways was completely exemplary of the A’s first half.
Sean Manaea could finally really be turning a corner. He had a historic April, pitching thirty six innings with thirty strikeouts, seven walks, sixteen hits allowed and an ERA of a cool 1.00. On April 22nd, Manaea threw the first no hitter in Oakland since Dallas Braden’s perfect game in 2010. While it was obvious he wouldn’t sustain the literally unhittable pace he was on, it was still disappointing to see his ERA for the month of May soar to above 6.00. Inconsistency was his biggest issue from his previous seasons with the A’s, and for the A’s to have a chance at the postseason, Manaea staying consistently good from month to month was a must.
Manaea certainly bounced back from the poor May, and over his last seven starts has a 3.12 ERA and a WHIP of 0.85. In today’s game, Manaea pitched six innings, throwing only seventy four pitches. He walked and struck out just one batter for each, giving up two runs on five hits. His fastball was, as per usual, sitting in the low nineties and his offspeed stuff was very well located. The Giants struggled to hit the ball out of the infield all game, and most of the balls that did leave the infield were harmless pop flies to the outfield.
There was one notable exception, in his final inning, where Manaea left a ninety MPH meatball down the middle of the plate that Chase D’Arnoud hit out to center field for a long ball. Beyond that one pitch, Manaea looked as good as ever on the hill. He could have struck out more guys, but with the kind of contact he was inducing and the lowness of his pitch count through six innings, a handful more strikeouts wouldn’t have made him any more dominant today.
And to further disparage the National League, Manaea absolutely could have/should have/would have pitched for one or two or maybe even three more innings today if not for the pitcher hitting of it all, getting lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth inning with the score still relatively close and all arms available in the bullpen.
Also, if Manaea used his giant lanky giraffe legs to gracefully glide up the first base line rather than hobble up the line like he was barefoot and chalk was broken glass, he could have had two infield singles on the day. For what it’s worth.
The A’s fell behind early thanks to a dying quail RBI single from Gorkys Hernandez, but the team wasn’t down for long. While the A’s have relied heavily on patience and power at the plate this year, going so far as to hit home runs in twenty seven straight road games during the season’s first half, it wasn’t the long ball that gave the Giants’ starting pitcher Andrew Suarez fits. With one out in the fourth, Jed Lowrie worked a walk, and Mark Canha hit a single to left field to place runners on first and second with the red-hot Stephen Piscotty coming up.
Piscotty hit a soft line drive to right center field that scored Lowrie standing up. Canha advanced to third on the single to keep runners on the corners for Matt Olson.
Olson hit a soft line drive to right center field that scored Canha standing up. Piscotty advanced to third on the single to keep runners on the corners for Matt Chapman.
Holy Oly! Olson gets his first hit of the series and the go ahead RBI to help start the rally. A's up 4-1 pic.twitter.com/78NKpuBcuJ— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) July 15, 2018
Chapman hit a sharp ground ball to right center field that scored Piscotty standing up. Olson advanced to third on the single to keep runners on the corners for Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy hit a sacrifice fly to score Olson and push the A’s lead to 4-1.
Of course, Piscotty didn’t only contribute on offense via a soft single. The right fielder has had one of the emotionally tumultuous four months a person can have, losing his mother to ALS while struggling mightily at the plate with a new team, before becoming one of the best hitters in an impressive Oakland lineup in the midst of his mother’s passing. In the sixth inning, Piscotty showed off his power stroke that had so long been missing and smacked a home run to left center field.
Yusmeiro Petit also lost his mother this season, and has also persevered in the face of adversity.
Manaea’s early pull meant Ryan Buchter in the seventh, and he struck out the side with just three batters faced. While most of the hype on the relief staff surrounds the explosive TnT at the back of the pen, Buchter has been equally as reliable, and is often the only lefty in the pen to boot.
The A’s are undefeated when leading after seven innings due to the unprecedented successes of a third day draft pick and a scorned castaway. Many eyebrows were raised when Trivino was used in the eighth after his long outing yesterday, and raised further with Treinen pitching with a four run lead in the ninth, while also having managed his own heavy workload lately. Neither pitcher looked their sharpest, each of them walking a batter and missing well off of their target on multiple occasions, but Trivino only needed to face three batters and Treinen struck out the side in the ninth around the walk to procure the victory. With the long break coming up, it was probably fine to use them today, it is the Bay Bridge Series, after all.
Speaking of which, the A’s either need to win the next two games of the series, or simply win on the final game of the series next Sunday, in order to take the Bay Bridge Trophy for themselves. The Giants have to either sweep the series or win the first and third games in Oakland to steal it away.
It has been a sensational half for this team. The A’s have had so many compelling storylines and impact performances over their first nearly hundred games, and nearly all of the stars of those stories and performances were on full display today. This team is only getting better, and have been playing like a playoff team since the All Star break last year.
The American League better watch out.