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A’s outfield steps up in absence of suspended Ramon Laureano

Stephen Piscotty, Robbie Grossman, and Mark Canha each played critical roles in Friday’s win

Oakland Athletics v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Ramon Laureano didn’t play in the Oakland A’s game on Friday, but you wouldn’t know it from the exciting result.

Even without their starting center fielder and WAR leader, who’s serving a four-game suspension for his role in a brawl, the A’s still managed to put together a thrilling comeback victory (click here for the full recap). What’s more, the stars of the game were their outfielders, who each stepped up in the absence of their teammate’s clutch, powerful hitting and dynamic defense.

Robbie Grossman, LF

First up is left fielder Robbie Grossman, who’s arguably been as good as Laureano in his own right as one of the top five hitters in MLB so far. The switch-hitter was the first to get the A’s on the board, after six scoreless innings by Giants starter Johnny Cueto. In the 7th, with a runner on base, Grossman lined a triple into the right field corner for the RBI, and a moment later he scored on a groundout.

Those runs mattered, as they slightly narrowed San Francisco’s daunting lead and helped set the stage for the 9th-inning comeback. Grossman was involved in that later rally too, reaching base when he hit a grounder that first baseman Wilmer Flores messed up — granted, it should have been a routine out, but at least Grossman made enough contact to put himself in position for a lucky break.

Mark Canha, CF

Directly replacing Laureano in center field was Mark Canha, who did the same last year when Laureano missed time to injury. He did his best impression of the 26-year-old on Friday.

On offense, Canha served as the quiet table-setter as well as the clutch run producer. He had a hand in all three scoring innings — he singled ahead of Grossman’s triple, then walked ahead of a home run in the 9th, and then knocked in the go-ahead tally in the 10th with nothing more than a simple sac fly. All it took was a well-timed single, walk, and flyout to make him one of the lineup’s heroes.

But Canha also chipped in on the defensive end. With the A’s trailing 6-0 at the time, he tracked down a deep drive and made a running, leaping catch at the wall, slamming into it hard enough that he needed a moment to get back to his feet. The effort saved at least one run, and maybe more depending how things might have gone differently with one more out for the Giants to work with.

That grab was downright Laureano-ish, between the athletic ability and the intense commitment to going full-bore at all moments. Statcast said the batted ball had a .930 expected batting average, meaning this one gets caught only 7% of the time.

Stephen Piscotty, RF

And then there’s right fielder Stephen Piscotty, the primary hero of the evening. He came up in the 9th inning with the bases loaded, one out, and his team down by four runs — not far from the classic “backyard” scenario. He responded in spectacular fashion, drilling a grand slam to tie the game. Oakland went on to win in the 10th, on Canha’s sac fly.

It was the A’s first game-tying grand slam in the 9th inning or later since 1952, when they played in Philadelphia. It was also Piscotty’s second 9th-inning slam of the season, after his walk-off job against the Rangers the previous week, making him just the 14th player ever to hit two of them that late in games twice in the same summer.

Entering Saturday, the three outfielders had the following numbers:

  • Grossman: 193 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR, 0.8 bWAR
  • Canha: 114 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR, 0.6 bWAR
  • Piscotty: 112 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR, 0.3 bWAR

That’s still a strong group, all of them above-average hitters with positive WAR value already. Sure, their best lineup would include Laureano, with his 142 wRC+, improved defense, 0.9 fWAR, and 1.2 bWAR, but even without him they’ve still got an excellent outfield featuring three veterans who can each contribute on both sides of the ball. On Friday they proved it, driving in six of the team’s eight runs, scoring five of them, and preventing at least one more in the field.

Athletics Nation looks forward to Laureano getting back in action. In the meantime, he can have a little midseason breather while his teammates continue winning games for a few days.

Update

The outfielders did it again on Saturday. This time it was Canha, playing Laureano’s CF position. Facing a 6-4 deficit in the 9th, with two on, two out, and a full count, Canha launched a homer to take the lead — off the same pitcher who’d served up Piscotty’s slam on Friday.