The Oakland A’s 2019 season is off to a nice start. After returning from their trip to Japan, they played a pair of four-game series at the Coliseum and won both of them. First they took 3-of-4 from the Angels, and then they followed that up by taking 3-of-4 from the defending World Series champion Red Sox.
The A’s now stand at 6-4 on the season, and they’re heading out for their first official road trip. But first, we have to savor beating the champs, so here are the five best parts of this week’s series win against Boston.
1. Ramon Laureano
Laureano made his presence known on both sides of the ball and made significant contributions to each of the three wins. The center fielder is off to a slow start overall this year, as he’s 6-for-34 with 14 strikeouts, but you wouldn’t know it from this series as he repeatedly played hero by showing off his immense talents at crucial moments.
The biggest headlines came from his throwing arm. A’s fans already knew about Laureano’s laser from last summer, but the Red Sox got their first look at it this week. He threw out Xander Bogaerts at the plate on Monday, then threw out Bogaerts again at third base on Tuesday — click here for more on those two plays. Even after the Red Sox shortstop learned his lesson, his teammate and reigning MVP Mookie Betts challenged Laureano again on Thursday and got nabbed at third base.
Better yet, each of these outs was important. The A’s won the opening game 7-0, but it was scoreless in the 2nd inning when Laureano threw out Bogaerts as the would-be first run of the series. The next night, it was 1-0 in the 9th, and a runner reaching third base with only one out on the board could have easily led to a blown save. On Thursday, the Red Sox were down 7-3 in the 9th but were beginning to mount a comeback against not-closer Liam Hendriks, and Laureano’s effort stopped it in its tracks.
“Rarely do you see three impactful plays like that in a series, because sometimes they stop running on you,” said manager Bob Melvin after the game. “But they continued to be aggressive on him, and every time he made a different play than the one before, but all big plays in the course of the game.”
Laureano now has 12 outfield assists in his career since debuting last August, in a total of 58 MLB games, or 57 games in which he’s played the field, or 51 starts. That’s as fast a pace as you’ll find just about anywhere in league history. “It’s tough to keep finding adjectives for Ramon’s throwing, but it’s one of a kind,” said Melvin.
It wasn’t just the throws, though. He also chipped in at the plate, and in spectacular fashion. Shortly after Laureano threw out Bogaerts on Monday, Khris Davis homered off former Cy Young winner David Price to give Oakland a 1-0 advantage. The next inning, Laureano added another solo shot off Price to pad the early lead, 428 feet to center.
He went yard again on Wednesday, once more building on an early 1-0 lead. This time it was a two-run blast off Nathan Eovaldi, registering a monster 438 feet. The A’s ended up losing the game due to sloppy defense elsewhere, but for a while it looked like this dinger might hold up as a game-winner. Later, with the score tied in the 8th, he nearly drove in the go-ahead run after hustling out an infield single, but the call was overturned on replay for the third out and Boston scored in the 9th instead.
Here’s a nice reel of all of Laureano’s highlights from the Red Sox series, including a sliding catch that I didn’t even mention.
All of this serves as reminder about why we would have voted Laureano as the A’s No. 2 prospect if he hadn’t juuust barely graduated to rookie status last season.
2. Scoreless streak
The Oakland A’s starting rotation caught absolute fire during this homestand. In the first six games they combined to allow just one run in 36 innings, with each starter going exactly six frames. The Red Sox finally got to them a bit in the final two matchups, but they still finished the eight games with a line of six earned runs in 46⅔ innings (1.17 ERA) — and it would have been even better if the defense hadn’t botched a tailor-made double play on Wednesday.
This headline goes beyond just the rotation, though. The pitching staff as a whole kept the Red Sox scoreless for each of the first two games of the series, winning 7-0 and then 1-0. That’s even more impressive when you consider that the Sox have one of the best lineups in the sport.
The A's have shutout the Red Sox in back-to-back games for just the second time over the last 88 years...the other time was Aug. 30-31, 1996 (Telgheder/Groom and Adams).— Mike Selleck (@MikeSelleck) April 3, 2019
Boston didn’t find home plate until the 5th inning of the third game, on a solo homer by catcher Blake Swihart, after A’s pitching had kept them off the board for 22 consecutive innings. And if you take it back to the finale of the previous series against the Angels, the overall streak was 25 straight scoreless frames.
Aaron Brooks and Mike Fiers provided most of the zeroes against the Red Sox, as each starter went six innings. And while they aren’t the names anyone would have expected to shut down this powerful Boston lineup, Statcast suggests that they truly earned their success, with superb xwOBA marks of .265 and .188, respectively. This wasn’t just BABIP luck on a bunch of loud outs, it was a pair of extremely well-pitched games.
“You could see the confidence build as the game went along,” said Melvin of Brooks’ performance. “After the first, and the second, and third, he’s going out there with more confidence, and boy he pitched really well. (Catcher Nick) Hundley did a great job with him. Can’t say enough good things.”
Also click here to see a nasty Fiers curveball. In addition to those two starters, plus the first four innings of Marco Estrada’s start, every reliever except Yusmeiro Petit pitched during the overall scoreless streak, though Joakim Soria only appeared in the part against the Angels.
3. Chapman makes more history
The pitching staff’s scoreless streak made possible an interesting record.
Matt Chapman: First time in Athletics history (1901) that a solo homer in the 1st inning has stood up for a 1-0 victory.— Doug Kern (@dakern74) April 3, 2019
Matt Chapman homered in the 1st inning on Tuesday, off superstar Chris Sale, and the run held up all the way to the end for a 1-0 victory. That had never happened in Athletics history, dating back to 1901. Here’s the homer:
As if it wasn’t enough for Boston to lose a 1-0 game in historic fashion, that homer barely even cleared the fence. At 374 feet, it’s the shortest dinger of the A’s season so far. And it won a game all on its own, albeit with some help from Fiers’ pitching and Laureano’s arm. Oh, and it was Chappy’s second long ball of the series, after going deep on Monday.
Of course, the third baseman also gave us his usual quota of amazing defensive plays as well. Such is the life of a Platinum Glover. After Jurickson Profar’s crucial error let the Red Sox tie the game on Wednesday, Chapman made a great diving stop to prevent further damage. The next inning, he ran the entirety of the Coliseum’s massive foul ground to grab a deep popup near the bullpen. On Thursday he sat out after being hit by a pitch on his surgically repaired left wrist, but he entered the game on defense for the final two innings and still made another nice diving play to help seal the victory.
4. Piscotty 2 Hotty
Stephen Piscotty was off to a slow start at the plate this season, but he busted his slump in the finale on Thursday. The right fielder went 4-for-4 with a homer, a double, two singles, and a walk, and he also drove in five of the team’s runs in a 7-3 win. Along the way he authored two of the three hardest-hit balls of the game, and three of the top nine.
Piscotty opened his afternoon with a single off Eduardo Rodriguez, registering 109.3 mph off the bat. He came up again in the 3rd inning, with the A’s down 3-0, and tied it up with a three-run homer (108.7 mph). The 4th inning brought him some BABIP luck, though — he made good contact but only found the warning track, and somehow two Gold Glove outfielders (Bradley and Betts) let the catchable ball fall between them for a two-run “double.”
“Starting to see it a little bit better, the rhythm is good,” said Piscotty. “Got a couple lucky breaks, not gonna lie. But that’s baseball, and sometimes they bounce your way.”
The breakout day raised Piscotty’s OPS from .596 to .851, and his wRC+ nearly doubled from 84 to 163. Knock the snot out of it, indeed.
5. Happy birthday, Stomper!
Tuesday was Stomper’s 21st birthday, and that means the annual tradition of the elephant mascot dancing around in his birthday suit.
Get it, Stompy!
All told, it was a great week at the Coliseum. The A’s won their series against the reigning champs, two dynamic young stars went supernova, Khrush homered, Piscotty broke out, and the pitching staff put in a long stretch of utter dominance against an elite opponent. Sounds like a contending team to me.