The Oakland A’s early success in 2020 has been led by some of their less heralded players, while some of the main stars have been slower to heat up. On Thursday, a few of those top names stepped up and carried the day.
Sean Manaea pitched into the 6th inning in his best start of the season so far, and Matt Chapman and Matt Olson combined for three homers in a 5-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. The win earned the A’s a split in the four-game home-and-away series, with all four contests going to the home teams.
For the second straight start, Manaea held his own for the second time through the opposing lineup, after struggling to do so his first few times out. His 5⅓ innings were a season-high, his one run allowed was a season-low, and he issued zero walks for the third time this year — overall he has only five free passes out of his 109 batters faced.
On the other side of the ball, the Matts took care of the offense. Chapman hit a solo homer in the 1st, Olson went deep in the 4th for two runs, and Chapman struck again in the 8th for two more. Those three dingers were all the scoring Oakland needed, which is for the best because they otherwise didn’t collect a hit with runners in scoring position (1-for-6, and that one was Olson’s homer).
As usual, the A’s bullpen locked things down after their starter was finished. Four relievers combined for the final 11 outs, four of them by strikeout, with just a single and two walks peppered in. Liam Hendriks pitched the 9th but didn’t get a save with the four-run lead.
Manaea improves again
In his last couple starts, Sean Manaea has come a long way.
The lefty was slow to warm up this year, as many pitchers have been around the league. In particular, he would breeze through the opposing lineup the first time through but then get lit up the second time through. He’s made progress in that regard his last two times out, helping him complete five-plus innings instead of being knocked out in the 4th or 5th amid a big rally.
Thursday was Manaea’s best showing yet. After scattering two singles his first time through the D’Backs order, he retired 7-for-9 his second time through, allowing just a homer and a double for one total run. That helped him pitch into the 6th inning for the first time this summer, and, for only the second time in six starts, he left with the A’s in the lead.
Manaea: 5⅓ ip, 1 runs, 4 Ks, 0 BB, 1 HR, 5 hits, 74 pitches (47 strikes)
There’s still room for further improvement. His velocity took a small step back after appearing to ramp up lately, as he broke 90.0 mph only four times in this game and topped out at 91.1. He showed once again that he can succeed at that speed, but you’d like to see 92 or 93 if possible. Perhaps related, he didn’t miss many bats, with only five swinging strikes.
Furthermore, Arizona did make much better contact when seeing him for the second time. In the image below, the precise exit velocity numbers are less important than the general colors — blue is weaker contact, up toward pink, and then the deeper the red the harder it was hit.
The first nine spots are mostly pink and blue. The second time through gets much redder, including twice as many 100+ mph hits. The very last entry is Ketel Marte’s third plate appearance, which was the hardest hit ball of Manaea’s night. On the other hand, he also collected four strikeouts the second/third time through after getting none the first time, so half the batters were still getting fooled while the other half really really weren’t.
Per Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle: “Manaea threw 23 fastballs and 15 off-speed his first time through the lineup. After that: 14 fastballs, 22 off-speed. After the first his fastball was 88-89.”
Add it all up, and Manaea’s night was a positive. It went well in a lot of ways, especially the results. That doesn’t mean he fixed all the issues that were holding him back, but he improved on them enough that they didn’t sink him this time. It’s not an immediate “He’s back!” moment, but it’s progress.
One thing working in Manaea’s favor was that his teammates staked him to an early lead, rather than getting shut out for six innings and then coming back against the opposing bullpen.
It only took three batters to get on the board, as Matt Chapman homered in the 1st inning.
In the 4th, his Stache Brother, Matt Olson, joined him with a two-run tater. The runner on base was Mark Canha, via a walk (and then a steal of second), and his 16 free passes are tied for 12th-most in the entire majors.
Those three runs held up for the rest of the night, but they added a couple more in the 8th inning just to be safe. This time it was Chapman’s turn again, driving in Ramon Laureano for two more tallies.
That was 110.9 mph off the bat, barely edging out his first blast at 110.0. Both traveled around 430 feet. Monster dongs.
That’s eight homers for Chapman this year, and nine for Olson, ranking them both within the top 14 in the majors. Their overall stats are still catching up to normal, with Olson below the Mendoza Line and Chapman holding a sub.-300 OBP, but clearly the power is there and xwOBA loves the contact they’re making. Don’t let those low batting lines fool you, the Matts are going to be just fine — and in the meantime they’ve still racked up plenty of clutch or impactful hits this year.
I was curious, and maybe you were, too:— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) August 21, 2020
This is the 16th time that both Matt Chapman and Matt Olson have homered in the same game.
2nd time this season (8/9) pic.twitter.com/foa7LeeI4J
As for the rest of the lineup, Canha continued to be an on-base machine. He reached three times, with a double and two walks, and his high .413 OBP has been a crucial cog in this offense. Even more encouraging is that Khris Davis hit the ball hard three times, earning him a pair of hits.
I may as well just copy/paste this section at this point. The bullpen has become so automatic that it’s not even a question of whether they got the job done, just who chipped in on a given night.
On Thursday, it was J.B. Wendelken getting the final two out of the 6th to strand Manaea’s final runner; Yusmeiro Petit getting two outs in the 7th but walking his third batter; Jake Diekman coming in to strand Petit’s runner and then work the 8th; and Liam Hendriks going 1-2-3 with a pair of strikeouts in the 9th.
Bullpen: 3⅔ ip, 0 runs, 4 Ks, 2 BB, 1 hit, 64 pitches (38 strikes)
They can’t be this perfect forever, but every day they are gets them closer to home-field advantage (or at least home-team rules) for more and more of the postseason. And if they can dominate like this in October ... well, you know.
There was a scary moment in the 6th inning. Chapman ranged out to LF to chase a deep popup (shallow fly?) and made a tumbling, diving attempt at it, but he hit the deck hard and appeared to jam his wrist. The trainer checked on him and he stayed in the game.
A couple innings later, he hit the hardest ball of the night by either team for his second homer, so hopefully that means Man Chap is just fine.
If you’ve been watching the broadcasts this season, then you know that the cardboard cutouts in the Coliseum stands are joined by some oversized teddy bears in the left field corner. One of them got into the action on Thursday.
A teddy bear took a foul ball right off the head pic.twitter.com/fEYA7P1LOa— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 21, 2020
Direct hit, and kept a smile on his face. That’s 80-grade attitude and makeup.
This reminds me of a moment from Wednesday’s game, and a Ray Fosse quote that made me happy. A foul ball went to the same section in LF and hit a nearby cutout of Philadelphia A’s old-timers Al Simmons, Tris Speaker, and Ty Cobb. Fosse, Glen Kuiper, and Dallas Braden had the following exchange about the ghosts in the cutout:
- Kuip: “They’ve been having a great time all year.”
- Dallas: “He’s got a glove on, no attempt to catch it?” (referring to Speaker’s glove in the photo)
- Fosse: “No, just smiling and just saying, ‘Bring it on, let’s go. Teddy bears will take care of it.’”
Teddy bears will take care of it. Welcome to baseball in 2020.
This series marked the return of Stephen Vogt to the Coliseum. The two-time All-Star catcher is still as beloved as ever in Oakland, and the A’s showed that by celebrating a visiting player during a game. When he pinch-hit in the 7th, his old “I believe in Stephen Vogt” chant began pumping over the speakers.
Let’s be honest. If there had been fans in the stands, then the RF bleacher crew would have done this in real life too. That’s how much of a local legend Vogt is. And I 100% love the spirit of sportsmanship and camaraderie and mutual respect behind it, just as I loved it when they did the Rage when Grant Balfour came back in another uniform in 2014. It’s possible to be fully competitive and still like your old friends on the other side.
Vogt went 0-for-6 in the series, and grounded out in his only Coliseum at-bat. But A’s fans still believe.
The A’s and D’Backs finish with a four-game split. Next up are the Angels, again, for the third time this year ... and also the last time, as this will complete their season series. It’s hard to imagine the Halos playing worse ball right now, so may as well get in these last three matchups before they heat back up (if they ever do). Friday is Mike Fiers vs. Andrew Heaney at 6:40 p.m.