The Oakland A’s visited Baltimore not a moment too soon. After seven games against the last two World Series champions, who also happen to be the two favorites for this year’s title, the A’s got a turn against a weaker opponent. The Orioles lost 115 games last year, and figure to compete for last in the majors again this season.
The series got off to a rough start, as the A’s lost a 12-4 rout in the opener to extend their losing streak to four games. However, they snapped out of their funk and blasted the O’s the next three days, earning three victories by a combined score of 31-10. Oakland is back over .500 at 9-8, and the lineup is looking good from top to bottom. Here are the five best parts of this week’s series win in Baltimore.
1. Josh Phegley catches fire
Phegley was already beginning to heat up before this series, but he took it to another level in Baltimore. He had a couple nice games against Boston, and his homer in Houston got him a mention after that series, but then he swatted two more dingers and a double against the Orioles.
The first homer came in the opening loss, but he hit it early when the game was still close and competitive. The second came in the narrowest win, when the score was 2-1 ahead of an eventual 8-5 finish. Both of them went nearly 400 feet, so they weren’t moonshots but also weren’t just cheapies in a bandbox stadium, and they came off Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy — both right-handers, and both at least viable starters who probably belong in the majors.
Perhaps Phegley’s most impressive effort, though, came on the bases on Tuesday. The A’s led 1-0 when he made this heads-up play, which drove in a run and extended the inning for a three-run dinger that blew the game open.
That’s not even a misplay by the first baseman, who had to range away to corral the errant throw. It’s just an amazing deke that no one expected.
Phegley’s emergence could be a particularly big deal for the A’s. They more or less punted the catcher position last winter, letting their 2018 starter walk and then signing two free agents — one for $1 million and another on a minor league contract. It was a defensible strategy, with a stretched budget and a top prospect nearly ready in Triple-A, but for the time being it was fair to wonder if they’d get anything at all from their backstopgaps until Sean Murphy arrived. That was especially true when Chris Herrmann got hurt during the spring, and then when Nick Hundley began his season 3-for-26 with five GIDPs.
The sample is still small so we shouldn’t get too excited about it yet, but during his current six-game hitting streak Phegley is 9-for-22 with three homers, two doubles, and only four strikeouts, plus that great play above which properly shows up in the box score as a throwing error. From a position that was feared to be a total zero, even one great week is encouraging.
On the other hand, this doesn’t have to be a total mirage. Phegley’s power was considered one of his strengths when he arrived in Oakland, and he showed it off here in 2015 with nine homers in 243 plate appearances (.200 isolated slugging). His next couple years were interrupted by several injuries, and then in 2018 he was stuck behind Jonathan Lucroy. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him get serious, consistent playing time in the majors, and his biggest sample size in Oakland (2015) was also his best. He’s got the upside of being a solid hitter at the bottom of the lineup, especially given the early signs of an increased launch angle that could better capitalize on his pop.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s plenty of time to find out whether Phegley’s hot streak is a real thing. For now, what matters in this post is that he was one of the best parts of the Baltimore series.
2. Jurickson Profar wakes up
The A’s new second baseman is off to a tough start with his new club. He began the year 5-for-47 with a minus-20 wRC+, and he was even worse on defense with multiple costly errors. Nico preached patience, but the fanbase grew restless.
Profar awakened in Baltimore. He went 6-for-15, blasted two homers, and added a sac fly and a walk. On Tuesday alone, he went 4-for-5 with five RBI, including driving in the first run of the game.
Those four days didn’t fix everything on their own. He’s still below the Mendoza Line, and his wRC+ is only 41. What’s worse, he delivered some weirdly weak and loopy throws in Thursday’s finale, which got the job done but didn’t allay my concerns about the yips he seems to be forming. But Profar’s performance in Baltimore was a huge step in the right direction, and it’s impossible to not feel better about him now than you did last weekend.
Even the explanation behind the improvement will put a smile on your face. According to Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle, Profar “talked to Adrian Beltre about his swing, about coming to a new team etc. on Sunday. Started hitting Monday and really went off Tuesday.” Survey says, Beltre is still a national treasure, even in retirement. And now he’s finally helping us instead of competing against us.
3. Khrush khrushes
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Khris Davis once again leads the majors in home runs. He didn’t do much in the first two games of this series, but he launched a pair of long balls on Wednesday night and another pair on Thursday afternoon — four dingers in under 24 hours.
He’s now got nine, in the team’s first 17 games. That’s his fastest pace yet to start a season since arriving in Oakland. Here’s when he hit his ninth tater the last few years, measured in terms of team games (he plays pretty much every game anyway):
- 2016: 40th game (May 17)
- 2017: 23rd game (April 28)
- 2018: 33rd game (May 5)
- 2019: 17th game (April 11)
I already had a feeling this would be the year that Khrush finally makes an All-Star team, and it’s about time to make that an outright prediction. Is this also the year he goes for 50 dingers?
Fun fact: Khrush is so strong that he doesn’t even have to swing the bat to hit a single. He can just glare at the ball and make it go 80 feet into no-man’s land.
Meanwhile, it was a miserable week for Chris Davis. The $161 million slugger made history by going hitless for his 47th straight at-bat, dating back to last season, and the streak climbed up to 53 games by the end of the series. Making it even worse, he actually hit the ball hard a bunch of times against the A’s, including thrice with exit velocities over 100 mph, but each sharp liner found a glove. He had a chance to bust out in dramatic fashion in the finale, in an at-bat in which a three-run homer would have taken a late lead, but Joakim Soria struck him out looking.
4. So many dingers
We’ve only scratched the surface of hot hitters from the Baltimore series. A few more names:
- Marcus Semien: 7-for-18, 2 HR, 2 doubles, sac fly, 1 K
- Matt Chapman: 6-for-13, HR, 2 doubles, 2 BB, 1 K
- Chad Pinder: 7-for-13, HR, double, BB, 2 Ks
- Kendrys Morales: 4-for-12, HR, 1 K
All told, Oakland launched 14 homers in the four-game series. They became the first team since the 2016 Orioles to hit five homers in back-to-back games, and the first A’s team to do it since 1987 — Mark McGwire’s rookie season.
After the Astros series, I commented on Twitter that none of Houston’s six homers had gone 400 feet (roughly the MLB median) and only one was hit 100+ mph off the bat. Only one even went 390, and one of them was the shortest in all of MLB so far at 331. They still count, but they were relatively weak dingers and the Astros were fortunate to have some of them clear the fence at all. To put some context on that, 12 of the A’s 14 homers in this series were 100+ mph, eight of them were at least 104, and five were at least 107. In terms of distance, four of them went 400+ feet, led by Mark Canha at 436. Nine of them went at least 390. This was a serious power display.
The A’s now rank second in the majors with 32 homers, behind ... the Mariners? Huh, 2019 is a weird place.
5. Richie and Renato
The Orioles are in a heavy rebuild, and they’re in the phase where they throw anything against the wall to see what sticks. That’s opened the door for a couple of former A’s prospects.
There wasn’t space for Renato Nunez in Oakland, with Khrush at DH and the Matts on the infield corners. They finally let him go last April, and he eventually wound up in Baltimore for most of 2018. He hit well for their Triple-A team, and posted a 113 wRC+ in 60 MLB games for them. Now he’s getting the everyday chance that was never going to happen here, playing exclusively DH so far. He’s worth keeping an eye on over there.
Meanwhile, Richie Martin was snatched away last winter in the Rule 5 draft, after playing 2018 in Double-A. Now the shortstop is starting regularly in the majors, as the O’s gauge what they’ve got in him. He racked up three hits in the opening game, including a triple, but went hitless from there and has a 32 wRC+ so far. On the downside, he did exactly what you’re not supposed to do — he ran on Ramon Laureano.
It’s a bummer that it never worked out for Renato and Richie in Oakland, but after following them for so long in the minors it’s fun to watch them get a chance somewhere at least. We also got to see old friend Dan Straily, at least for a couple innings on Wednesday before he got torched. The next day brought a couple frames from reliever Josh Lucas, who spent last summer in the A’s organization.
Next up are the Rangers, beginning in just a few minutes. After opening the road trip with four straight losses, it was wonderful to see the A’s shred through a doormat opponent like a contending club is supposed to. The lineup is on fire with six hitters above a 150 wRC+, the pitching staff settled down, and the outfield kept reeling off highlight plays. Here’s to one more great series in Texas, to wrap up this season-opening stretch of 18 games in 18 days!