It’s hard to argue with 6-2, especially when it comes first against a division rival and next against the reigning world champions. Without question, this was a homestand that went far to erasing the sting of an 0-2 start suffered while we were sleeping.
What is perhaps both aggravating and encouraging is that 10 games into the season, the A’s can honestly say they could be 10-0. They have yet to lose a game in which victory was not at their fingertips, which bodes well for the future but also means 4 “if only” games for fans to swallow.
Here are some observations around specific players and performances in the early going...
Frankie Montas, Aaron Brooks
For real or pleasant mirage? The Eyeball Scout is pleased to report that both pitchers passed the eyeball test in their first start. Montas not only unleashed a pretty devastating splitter to augment his fastball-slider combo, he was able to command it surprisingly well.
Montas’ weakness continues to be the hittability of his 98MPH fastball, evidenced when Kole Calhoun broke up his shutout bid by squaring up a 4-seamer. But no longer can left or right hand batters sit on a pitch, and the splitter is helping his fastball to play up.
Brooks passed the first of 2 stiff tests to open the season, taming the Red Sox’ bats before facing the Astros on the road this coming weekend. Brooks legitimately had the Red Sox hitters off balance and baffled, using an assortment of pitches starting with a heavy-sinking fastball, channeling his inner Marco Estrada with a signature changeup, but also snapping off various kinds of breaking pitches.
The one cautionary tale would be that Brooks relied on a lot of chases and a patient approach could prove to be problematic. But you have to be encouraged that the hitters Brooks dominated are generally a patient bunch, as well as exceptionally talented. So there was definite deception in Brooks’ pitches that neutralized a generally strong lineup.
So.....not everything went swimmingly on the homestand. It’s been a rough start for Profar, both at the plate and in the field. In fairness, Profar has had a few hard hit outs but that doesn’t fully explain his .139/.162/.222 line. In the field, it’s been an adventure at best wherever Profar has been stationed on the right side of the diamond.
Regarding his hitting, what stands out to me is that Profar is truly hacking. One plate appearance stands out as an example: Friday night, with the A’s trailing 6-2 Profar lead off the bottom of the 9th against Angels’ new closer Cody Allen. In that at bat, Profar swung at ball 4 to get himself out in a spot where the A’s just needed base runners any which way. Allen walked the next batter and had little control or stuff as he wobbled around but ultimately earned the save.
At bats like this have been all too common over the first 10 games, resulting in Profar either getting down in the count or bailing pitchers out in hitters counts, getting himself out as much as pitchers are getting him out. He reminds me a bit of Dustin Fowler and so far the results have been similar to Fowler’s first big league trial.
In the field what stands out most to me is how poorly Profar reacts to sharply hit balls. We have seen it both at 1B and 2B, where Profar will “olé” a well hit ball that is a tough-but-playable chance. He either needs to get in front of those balls, or if he can’t he has to be able to track balls better — many of these have been one-hoppers and while at 1B one can make a “too hot to handle” case, certainly at 2B those are balls that need to be fielded.
Kudos to Bob Melvin for resisting the temptation to “go to the well” every day with Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen. Certainly the A’s might have won Wednesday night’s game had they unleashed the TnT, but you’ll take 3 out of 4 any time and you need to manage those pitchers’ appearances.
What’s unfortunate is that in building a generally excellent bullpen, the A’s have little depth in the “plus” department. Treinen, Trivino, and Soria will usually thrive, but the dropoff is steep. J.B. Wendelken is trying to lay claim to that “next guy” role, while Ryan Buchter showed signs of life Tuesday before throwing one pitch and getting beaten Wednesday.
Conspicuously absent in meaningful situations has been Yusmeiro Petit, who is both competent and also versatile. My hunch is that the A’s are being very conservative with using Petit because they view him as the closest thing Oakland has to a “long reliever” should tomorrow’s SP get knocked out early. But if they are holding Petit back “just in case,” it is at great cost — recently we saw extremely high leverage situations go to Liam Hendriks and Fernando Rodney and, well, guess which two games the A’s lost on the homestand?
Bullpens are fluid throughout the season and one hope I have is the A’s won’t wait long to call up Andrew Triggs. Triggs is a really good pitcher, who should only be better — or at least maybe healthier — in short bursts. He would give the A’s another reliever capable of going 3 IP if needed, but most importantly he would give the A’s another reliever capable of dominance in key situations.
With games on the line and winnable, we need to see more of Petit and more of Triggs, less of Hendriks and Rodney. Mostly, the A’s need to unearth a couple more guys they can trust late with a lead or tie because Treinen-Trivino-Soria can only go out there so many times. The good news is, Oakland keeps being tested because they have literally been in position to win every game.
I ushered in the Kendrys Morales era with a mighty “eh,” which was shorthand for, “Good hitter, but why not just roll with Mark Canha every day?” One of my assumptions was that Morales would be a liability on defense, but that has not proven to be the case.
Not only has Morales been utterly competent at 1B so far, it appears the A’s prefer him to Canha. This has been implied by Morales pinch hitting (and staying in to play 1B) when the A’s had a lead, and also by Canha’s absence, as a defensive replacement, in games started by Morales.
If Morales is, in fact, a defensive upgrade over Canha, while providing a needed LH bat, you can start to see why the A’s front office thought he was worth bringing in.
One final stray thought: while Ramon Laureano and Matt Chapman rightly get all the “OMG” headlines, under the radar is Marcus Semien. Through 10 games the A’s SS is batting a hearty .344/.432/.500, the result of having almost exclusively good at bats, and he is currently on pace for a robust 9.6 WAR. Go Bears!
Eyeball Scout out, ready to give the Astros if not hell, then at least heck.