It’s deja vu all over again.
The Oakland A’s played the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, and for the second straight day the A’s won by a score of exactly 3-2.
Whereas Saturday’s game required extra innings, this time the A’s got the job done in regulation, thanks to a three-run homer by Ramon Laureano in the 5th and another strong pitching performance from both the rotation and bullpen.
The larger problem of the A’s dormant lineup didn’t go away in this game, as they collected just eight baserunners (five hits, two walks, and a HBP) and went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. However, that one clutch knock, the dinger by Laureano, did enough damage to carry the day, providing another encouraging example of a contending Oakland club finding a way to win even when they aren’t firing on all cylinders — something they weren’t able to do during their three-game losing streak last week.
On the pitching side, starter Chris Bassitt put in arguably the rotation’s best performance of the year so far. He finished just one out short of a six-inning quality start, and thus one out shy of the team’s season-high workload set by Mike Fiers the night before, but Bassitt allowed just one run while striking out seven and putting only four runners on base (3 hits, 0 BB, 1 HBP).
The bullpen also held serve for the second straight game, with four relievers combining to finish the final three-plus frames. They did allow one run to narrow their lead and make things interesting, on a solo homer off Yusmeiro Petit, but Liam Hendriks locked it down in the 9th to earn his second save in the last 19 hours and his third of the season.
The A’s have three hot hitters so far in 2020: Ramon Laureano, Mark Canha, and Robbie Grossman. All three reached base on Sunday, with Canha doing so three times, but it was Laureano who stole the show.
Oakland put runners on base in each of the 2nd through 4th innings, but they couldn’t push anyone across until the 5th. With two outs already on the board, a pair of runners reached to set up a big opportunity for Laureano. The A’s have struggled mightily in such spots the last week, but Ramon came through with his team-leading second dinger of the year.
That one swing of the bat gave Oakland all the scoring they’d get in the game, and all they’d need. They kept putting pressure on Seattle in nearly every inning, but ultimately settled for just the one clutch hit.
The lineup got a chance to face a former teammate in Kendall Graveman, and the right-hander ended up taking the loss. He didn’t allow the homer to Laureano, but he dug the hole by putting both runners on base, and it took him 96 pitches to not quite finish the 5th. Still, this was an improvement over his season debut, when he allowed seven runs (six earned) to the Astros.
Another notable was Tony Kemp, who had his first productive day at the plate this summer. He recorded his first hit in an A’s uniform, lining a single to right, and he also walked twice, tying him for the team lead by reaching base three times. One of his walks, which he drew with two outs to extend the 5th inning, came in front of Laureano’s long ball and earned the A’s a crucial extra tally in an eventual one-run win.
One final highlight of the lineup was rookie Seth Brown, who drew his first start of the year, as the DH. He went 0-for-2 before being lifted for a pinch-hitter, but it was nice to see him in action.
Bassitt hounds Mariners
The A’s got their first quality start of the season last night, when Mike Fiers went six full against the Mariners. Chris Bassitt didn’t quite make it two in a row in that specific metric, but he may have put up the team’s best performance yet.
The right-hander got off to an inauspicious start by hitting his first batter, who eventually came around to score an early run. But from there he retired the next 10 hitters, taking him through the end of the 4th. An infield single in the 5th broke the streak, but he kept Seattle quiet until another single in the 6th.
Bassitt: 5⅔ ip, 1 run, 7 Ks, 0 BB, 1 HBP, 0 HR, 3 hits, 83 pitches (53 strikes)
Other than three sharp singles and a couple loud outs, Seattle wasn’t able to do anything against him. He helped his own cause by striking out one-third of his batters and avoiding walks entirely, though he did have the one HBP that came back to bite him.
Otherwise he was dominant, dialing his fastball up to 95 and getting his whole arsenal involved. He earned 11 swinging strikes, including three or more on three different pitches (4-seam, sinker, slider) and one on a fourth offering (curveball), though his changeup didn’t miss any bats. He’s easily been the A’s best starter so far, through two turns of the rotation.
In the 6th inning, with two outs and lefty slugger Daniel Vogelbach coming up, the A’s summoned southpaw T.J. McFarland from the bullpen to strand Bassitt’s final runner. It took McFarland all of one pitch to dispatch Vogelbach, on — wait for it — a grounder! Out of 10 batters faced this season, he’s now induced groundouts from seven of them.
As an extra point of interest, since McFarland got the final out of the inning, he was not required to face the new three-batter minimum.
Bullpen holds on again
The A’s bullpen led the majors in blown saves last year, but they’ve been consistently holding leads so far in 2020. They came through again on Saturday, though they did dance around trouble along the way.
After McFarland’s quick appearance, Jake Diekman came in for the 7th and walked his first two batters, but then retired the next three to get out of it. Yusmeiro Petit followed and served up a solo homer to ultra-hot rookie Kyle Lewis, just the second runner allowed by Petit this summer, but the A’s had enough margin to withstand that one run.
The 9th inning brought closer Liam Hendriks to protect a one-run lead. With one on and one out he engaged in an epic duel with veteran lefty Kyle Seager, and the Mariners appeared to receive a gift — on one of the many two-strike pitches, Seager swung at a ball in the dirt and got a foul call, but replays suggest he actually missed it entirely and it should have been Strike 3. Fortunately, Hendriks was able to get him again and seal the K anyway. In the end he struck out the side and stranded the tying runner to convert the save.
Oakland’s setup crew of Hendriks, Petit, Diekman, and Joakim Soria has now combined for a 1.02 ERA, with 24 strikeouts and eight walks in 17⅔ innings.
Finish it off
The series wraps up Monday, giving the A’s a chance to walk away with their second four-game series win of the year. The finale pits Oakland ace Frankie Montas against Seattle top prospect Justus Sheffield, at 6:10 p.m.