And away we go! 57 to play, 1 game back of Seattle, 6 back of Houston. For a “non-contending year” this is quite the contending year. Now to get it to the finish line...
Chapman Stays In The #2 Hole
It was heartening to see Matt Chapman batting 2nd last night, because that’s where he needs to be the rest of the season regardless of DH or no DH, LHP or RHP. Chapman’s OBP for the season now stands at a robust .360, tied for best on the team with Jed Lowrie. Remarkably, Chapman has no platoon splits here, carrying a .361 OBP against LHPs and a .359 OBP against RHPs.
Against RHP, the solution is simple: you just flip Chapman (who has been hitting 7th) and Semien, slotting Chapman in at #2 and allowing Semien to create enviable depth at the bottom third of the order by batting 7th.
This isn’t just essential due to the issue of who bats ahead of Lowrie and Khris Davis. It’s also a matter of plate appearances. Over the course of 57 games, the #2 hitter is going to get about 30 more PAs than the #7 hitter and Chapman (131 wRC+), not Semien (90 wRC+), needs to get those extra plate appearances.
With Chapman’s season line now up to .269/.360/.472, there is just no excuse for putting him anywhere but high in the order the rest of the way.
Allocate Your Bullets
A huge part of the A’s blueprint for success lies in the dominance of the now-three-headed monster that is Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, and Jeurys Familia. Especially in the case of Treinen and Trivino, under contract for 2 more, and 6 more years, respectively, you want to fully utilize, but not abuse, these key arms.
There are 3 possible stretches where these guys should be maxed out, which means not maxing them out in between.
The most obvious one is the 10 games left head to head with the Seattle Mariners, in which each game represents a two-game swing in the wild card standings.
Another is the final few games of the season if the race is neck and neck, as we saw in 2012 with Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle, both of whom pitched in each of the final 4 games, and Grant Balfour, who pitched in each of the last 5.
The last one, potentially, would be the 6 games remaining with the Houston Astros, should the A’s find themselves still within striking distance of the division and viewing those two-game swings as crucial.
Even if all those stretches prove to be highly relevant, you’re talking about 20 total games out of 57, which means 37 in between in which you need to be prudent about what you ask of these guys, even if it means turning to Emilio Pagan in the 8th inning or asking Ryan Buchter to earn a save against a LH heavy group of hitters.
Fortunately, in Treinen you have a pitcher who generally likes a heavy workload, in Trivino you have a young pitcher with little mileage in his arm, and in Familia you have a rental you don’t need to overly protect long-term. So these guys don’t need to be babied, but they do need to be rested sufficiently along the way if you want them to stay healthy and you want them to stay dominant.
This means stay away from “three days in a row” or even “three out of four” until you hit one of these “all in” stretches. 2 IP is fine with a day off to follow. You get the idea.
Two-Headed Monster > Three-Headed Monster
Fun as it was to watch Trivino (7th), Familia (8th), and Treinen (9th) bring it home in Arlington, it’s actually not the best model for the A’s to follow the rest of the way. Here I am not even talking about protecting their arms so much as leveraging their effectiveness.
If you pitch each of those guys for an inning, you are looking at “back to back days” if you go to any of them the following game. We have recently seen how pitching on consecutive days can limit effectiveness, as Trivino threw some flat cutters on 7/22 in blowing a 4-1 lead to the Giants, and we saw Treinen’s dominance on Wednesday turn to more wobbling around Thursday as he pitched on a third straight day for the first time this season.
With 3 plus relievers, each of whom can get 3-6 outs, a better model for the A’s to follow is to ask 2 of their relievers to combine for 3 IP, allowing the third one to rest and be fully available the next day. Whether that means one reliever goes 2 IP, another 1 IP, or one goes 1.2 IP and the other 1.1 IP, these guys in particular are fully capable of combining to get 9 outs without going to all 3.
Then you have a plus reliever rested, able to get 3-6 outs the following day while at least the most leaned on (highest pitch count) reliever from the day before is rested. It’s a more sustainable model for ongoing success, putting quantity over frequency, and the A’s have exactly the horses with whom to do it effectively.
Just some thoughts to ponder as we brace for the “final 57” — fasten your seat belts, because it’s going to be bumpy, and wild, ride!