The Oakland A’s began their 2019 season with a bad dream in Japan. They dropped two games to a Mariners team they should have beaten, they lost one of their stars to injury in Matt Olson, and all of it happened in the middle of the night in the Bay Area while most of the fan base was asleep. It was a real bummer of a way to start the year.
Fortunately, we all woke up last week, and everything seems back to normal. The A’s took 3-of-4 games from the Angels in the Coliseum, getting themselves back up to the .500 mark already, and the green-and-gold once again looks like a quality team with an eye on contention. Here are the five best parts of that “season-opening” series victory.
1. Rotation steps up
The A’s rotation is the weakest area of the team, and it’s remained a significant cause for concern since the end of last year. There are some innings-eaters, and maybe a couple breakout candidates, but there’s little certainty and nothing currently resembling an ace. Adding to the concern, Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada both got knocked around in the opening games in the Tokyo Dome, showing the downside of their flyball tendencies.
Against the Angels, though, they looked like the lights-out unit that nobody expected. Granted, the Halos are missing two of their best hitters in Justin Upton and Shohei Ohtani, so the lineup was weaker than normal and featured some filler at the bottom. But there are still a few stars in there including the single best player in the sport, and it’s easily an MLB-caliber lineup. Here’s what the A’s starters did to them in four games:
Oak SPs vs. LAA: 24 ip, 1 run, 15 Ks, 7 BB, 9 hits
Here it is broken down by pitcher.
Fiers: 6 ip, 0 runs, 2 Ks, 3 BB, 1 hit
Estrada: 6 ip, 0 runs, 3 Ks 2 BB, 2 hits
Anderson: 6 ip, 0 runs, 4 Ks, 2 BB, 3 hits
Montas: 6 ip, 1 run, 6 Ks, 0 BB, 3 hits
Everybody threw a quality, six-inning start, and only Frankie Montas even allowed a run. The rotation put together a streak of 25 straight scoreless innings, dating back to the last Japan game, until Montas served up a dinger to Kole Calhoun.
With six scoreless innings from Brett Anderson tonight, A's starting pitchers have three consecutive scoreless outings of six innings or more for the first time since Aug. 24-26, 2005 (Saarloos, Zito, Blanton)— Mike Selleck (@MikeSelleck) March 31, 2019
On an individual level, Brett Anderson set some team history along the way. He’s working on a streak of 34⅓ scoreless innings at home, which the team announced as an Oakland record dating back through 1968. The last time he allowed a run in the Coliseum was May 7, 2018, though that date is a bit misleading — the lefty missed some time to injury since then and coincidentally made about two-thirds of his starts on the road last year. But still, the streak includes five full, quality starts of six innings or more.
Anderson, last 5 home: 34⅓ ip, 0 runs, 17 Ks, 4 BB, 14 hits, 69% grounders
Not bad for a $1.5 million free agent. He’ll give up a run eventually, but that insane grounder rate is no accident and is exactly what Athletics Nation was hoping to see out of at least some of its starters.
Of course, none of this means the rotation is suddenly a strength. It was one series in March, against a weakened opponent, and the first real test comes to town tonight in the form of the world champion Red Sox. There will be runs. There will also be injuries eventually, and new names will have to step up from the minors and keep the line moving. And we haven’t even seen Aaron Brooks yet, as tonight he’ll make his first MLB start since 2015, against a terrifying opponent.
But it’s a heck of a start for a group that drew plenty of questions all winter. They don’t need to carry the rest of the roster, just hold their own and keep the team in the game. If they can keep efficiently eating innings like this, even with a couple runs attached, then the A’s will have a chance of repeating the seemingly unsustainable success they found last season with a similar patchwork rotation.
2. Soria rebounds
Just as the rotation was supposed to be weak, the bullpen was supposed to be airtight. That made it concerning when the relievers blew their first save chance of the season on Friday.
The main culprit was newcomer Joakim Soria, the A’s most expensive free agent signing of the winter. Soria entered a 2-0 game in the 8th and allowed three straight hits and an intentional walk before being yanked. The rest of pen continued struggling after that, with Ryan Buchter and Liam Hendriks letting home all of the runners he bequeathed to them, and Oakland snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. (Technically, Buchter was credited with the blown save, for walking in the tying run.)
There were plenty of knee-jerk reactions after Soria’s meltdown, especially after his first couple outings had also been shaky, but two days later he was right back in the saddle. This time it was a 2-1 lead in the 8th, and the right-hander needed only 11 pitches to retire the side, including an absolutely filthy curveball for a swinging strikeout.
Relievers are volatile. Even the best ones have bad days, and everyone blows a save now and then — even Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino each blew five last year. But Soria has an extensive track record, and that buys him more than a couple games of patience.
- In 2017-18 combined he posted a minuscule 2.34 FIP and a strong 3.39 ERA, with nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings.
- Last year his .261 xWOBA (Statcast) ranked 30th-best out of 438 pitchers. The year before, he ranked 60th out of 437 (at .279).
- His average exit velocity last year was the lowest in all of MLB (among 310 pitchers, 150+ batted balls against).
On Sunday, we saw the normal Soria. It was the one who shreds opposing lineups and gets the job done in the late innings, even as he approaches his 35th birthday. Expect to see a lot more of that guy, shortening games alongside the studs Treinen and Trivino.
Oh, and as for TnT so far? They’ve combined for 10.2 scoreless innings, 12 strikeouts, and only four baserunners. The middle relievers are still figuring themselves out, but the late innings are in elite hands.
We all know what to expect from Khris Davis at this point. He’s hit 40+ homers each of the last three seasons, he leads all of MLB in dingers since 2016, and last year he won the award for best DH in the league. He’s not wasting any time getting started this year.
After swatting his first homer in the Japan opener, Khrush knocked out three more against the Angels, one each on Thu, Fri, and Sun. And they’re important hits, too — the Friday jack accounted for all of Oakland’s scoring, and the Sunday dong came in an eventual one-run win. He already leads the world with four long balls, albeit with the benefit of some extra at-bats due to the early Japan games. He’s tied with NL leaders Paul Goldschmidt, Christian Yelich, and Cody Bellinger.
In terms of A’s history, only Mark McGwire and Jimmie Foxx have ever hit four homers in the first six games of the season, the team announced, though Mac still holds the record with five dingers in that span. At this point, Khrush is moving past sheer quantity and into style points, with one of these taters coming exactly as the clock struck 2:47 (an homage to his weirdly consistent batting average).
Khris' home run yesterday hit the SECOND deck an-— Oakland Athletics ⚾️ (@Athletics) March 29, 2019
wait a minute pic.twitter.com/gcq6S9BHbd
Click here to watch the video, and you can see the clock turn precisely as the ball passes over it. Uncanny!
4. Bat Flippin Season
Mark Canha had a wonderful 2018, and one of the best parts was his monster bat-flip against the Giants. He entered 2019 seemingly without a place to play, but just like last year he’s already found his way into the lineup to cover for some injured and/or struggling teammates. And he’s already back to his old tricks.
If that doesn’t rev you up for a season of contending A’s baseball, then I don’t know what to tell you. Bat flips are a thing now, they’re not going anywhere, and I’m here for them. For Canha, they just come naturally.
"It's bat flippin' season baby!" pic.twitter.com/SHbMWFwgad— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) March 31, 2019
Oh yeah, that homer was also the eventual game-winner.
5. Handing out the hardware
The A’s won a bunch of awards in 2018 on account of being really good at baseball, and before Friday’s game they received their hardware. The ceremony was wonderful and it included a couple of past A’s greats in Rickey Henderson and Eric Chavez. Click here to watch the whole thing and read all the details.
The home-opening series always brings some extra festivities, but this was a particularly fun one. Rickey is part of just about everything the team does now, which is awesome, and it was a kick to see six-time Gold Glover Chavez handing out that same award to a new A’s third baseman. Rooted In Oakland, indeed.
Welcome to 2019, Athletics Nation! The season is officially underway, and now April has arrived as well. Here’s to some more fun memories against the Red Sox this week!