Last year, the Oakland A’s beat the Blue Jays all seven times they played, earning a season sweep. This year, Toronto returned the favor, winning all six meetings over the last 10 days.
Last year, Blake Treinen was the best reliever in baseball. This year, he’s already blown two games in catastrophic fashion — once he walked four batters against the Astros including a walk-off walk, and on Sunday he was handed a three-run lead in the 11th and managed to serve up four runs.
Last year, no lead was safe against the A’s, down to the final out. This year, no A’s lead is safe, down to the final out. Oakland has already blown five saves, tied for fourth-most in MLB, and four of them have resulted in losses. And that doesn’t count a few more tie games that were lost in extras when the bullpen couldn’t hold serve, including this one on Sunday.
This was an incredibly frustrating loss, amid a season that is quickly becoming full of them. It was a tight 1-1 affair for 10 frames, then both teams went ham in the 11th, and at the end the Blue Jays emerged with the 5-4 victory.
The hero, once again, was Brandon Drury, who owned the A’s this year like few players own any team. Drury is 9-for-72 against the rest of the league, but against Oakland he’s 12-for-24 with three doubles and all four home runs he’s hit this season, including the back-breaking game-tying blast today.
Drury isn’t the only random infielder who crushed the A’s, though. Eric Sogard, who is apparently Jose Altuve now, began the game with a leadoff solo homer in the 1st inning, for the second time in this series. He has 14 career homers, and two of them came to leadoff games in this series.
Sogard added two more hits on top of that long ball on Sunday, bringing his season total against Oakland to 9-for-21 with two dingers and a double. Oh, and did I say he was Altuve? Just kidding, Sogard plays shortstop now, because screw everything you thought you knew about this world.
Fortunately, A’s starter Chris Bassitt settled down after Sogard’s tater. After firing five scoreless innings in his season debut last week, Bassitt did even better on Sunday, twirling seven sparkling frames in Toronto with just one run on three hits. He struck out nine batters along the way, some with well-placed fastballs and others with nasty slow curves that made the Jays chase.
Whereas Bassitt had been effectively wild in his first start, issuing four walks and a HBP, this time he ditched the wild part and kept just the effectiveness. He didn’t issue a single free pass, and along the way threw 70 of his 103 pitches for strikes — he only even went to a three-ball count in three at-bats, all ending in outs. His heater once again topped at 95 mph several times.
Unfortunately, the A’s lineup couldn’t do anything against someone named Trent Thornton, making his sixth career MLB start. The right-hander walked five batters, but Oakland got just two hits against him and scored only one run. Effectively wild, indeed.
That one run came courtesy of Khris Davis. The slugger had been mired in a 3-for-29 slump in eight games since signing his contract extension, with all those hits being singles and with 13 Ks to go along with them. On Sunday, though, he went 2-for-5 with a walk, and the two hits were an RBI double in the 3rd inning and 108.8 mph single in the 8th. Still waiting for a dinger, but that’s progress for a guy who said his swing “just feels shitty” lately (via Susan Slusser, S.F. Chronicle).
With the game knotted after 10 innings, both lineups woke up in the 11th. Stephen Piscotty drew a close walk to lead off the frame, and he alertly motored to third base on a single by Kendrys Morales. Ramon Laureano followed with a sac fly to take the lead, which was nearly a homer in its own right but still capitalized on Piscotty’s hustle.
Laureano coming through in the clutch pic.twitter.com/wgHnQsJAKZ— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 28, 2019
Rather than settling for the one run, though, the A’s scratched out some insurance. Josh Phegley knocked a double off the wall in left, once more just missing a homer. Phegley then came around himself when Toronto’s bullpen intentionally walked Marcus Semien, unintentionally walked Robbie Grossman to load the bases, and then pegged Matt Chapman with a pitch.
At this point it was 4-1, and it should have been a wrap. It had the feel of one of those games that just got away from one team in extras, and now 6th-place Cy Young finisher Treinen was coming in to seal it.
But then. A double to Rowdy Tellez, itself nearly a homer. A five-pitch walk to Alan Hanson, who entered the day with a career .266 OBP and 4% walk rate. Then a groundout! But hit too weakly to turn two. And then a 96-mph sinker grooved right down the middle to Drury, deposited 397 feet to the opposite field to blow the lead. Welp.
But wait, Toronto wasn’t done. A single (off the wall in right) by Freddy Galvis. A five-pitch walk to Danny Jansen, a 24-year-old catcher who entered the day with a career .310 OBP. A flyout by Super Sogard! But then a soft grounder through the hole by Justin Smoak, good enough for a walk-off single.
Last year, Treinen allowed 21 walks and two homers all year, in 80 innings. He’s already at 11 walks and a homer this year, in 15 innings. This is your daily reminder that relievers work in small samples and are the most volatile players in all of sports, and that bullpens are a mirage that you should never pin your full hopes on.
Oh, and to add injury to insult, Mark Canha left the game with a sprained right wrist and is a candidate to go on the IL, reports Slusser. Save us, Matt Olson, who could head out on rehab Tuesday and be back in Oakland a week or two later, reports Slusser.
This Toronto series was disappointing in just about every way. The lineup went 15-for-101 over the three games, scoring seven total runs on six extra-base hits and 30 Ks. The rotation finally put in a couple nice efforts, but the bullpen couldn’t hold a tie on Friday nor a lead on Sunday, while stud setup man Lou Trivino sat out with a minor injury. And even with Jurickson Profar taking his defensive yips to the bench on Sunday, super-sub Chad Pinder still made two errors at second base in his place, on back-to-back plays, though they didn’t end up mattering.
But despite all that, it’s still April. These games count, but so do the next 132 that are still yet to play. As disheartening as this series was, and really these last two weeks overall, there is a lot of season left to get back on track and Oakland is only two games under the .500 mark. The hole is not dug as deep as it feels, and in the meantime the rotation might be showing signs of stabilizing and the lineup will have back its third-biggest star before we know it. Brush this one off and keep the fAith, Athletics Nation.