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Oakland A’s Game #27: A’s jump on Angels early in 5-3 win

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The A’s have begun to score off opposing starters

Los Angeles Angels v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Late-inning comebacks are so last weekend. Now the Oakland A’s are all about scoring early off opposing starters and cruising to stress-free victories.

For the third straight game, the A’s jumped on the other team’s starting pitcher and built a lead they never relinquished. This time they beat Los Angeles Angels lefty Andrew Heaney, earning a 5-3 triumph and a three-game winning streak.

*** Game Thread #1 | Game Thread #2 ***

Oakland found the plate three times in the 1st inning against Heaney, setting the tone from the very first batter when Marcus Semien homered on the southpaw’s second pitch of the game. Two more insurance runs in the 5th proved to be crucial, helping the A’s hold on in regulation rather than needing late heroics to push them over the top.

While Semien got the scoring started, the real engine on offense was Stephen Piscotty. The right fielder drove in three runs, split between both of the A’s rallies, and his 20 RBI are now tied for the team lead. Matt Olson knocked in the other run for Oakland, and as usual Mark Canha was on base constantly and got pushed across the plate twice.

On the pitching side, Mike Fiers danced in and out of trouble all night but kept the damage under control. While he came short of a quality start, he still left with his team in the lead and in position to win, and afterward the bullpen got the job done once again.

The A’s 19-8 record is still the best in the American League, and a half-game behind the 20-8 Dodgers for the MLB lead.

Rally #1

In the first few weeks of the season, the A’s struggled to score against starting pitchers. They got to a few of them, but just as often they’d get shut down and then come alive later against the bullpen.

They took an encouraging step this week by building early leads against Diamondbacks starters Merrill Kelly and Alex Young in their last two games, and they made it three in a row with Andrew Heaney on Friday.

It took exactly two pitches for Marcus Semien and the A’s to begin scoring off Heaney.

That’s the eighth leadoff homer of Semien’s career, putting him two behind Bert Campaneris for third in Oakland history (and seven behind Coco Crisp for second).

The A’s weren’t done, though. Matt Chapman doubled and Mark Canha walked, setting the scene for Stephen Piscotty. A few days ago we took a closer look at Piscotty’s slightly more aggressive approach this summer, and indeed he offered at Heaney’s first pitch and drove it.

It fell short of clearing the fence, but it still knocked in two runners, including one from scoring position.

How hot were the A’s to start this game? Here are some of their exit velocities from the 1st inning:

  • Semien homer — 105.1 mph
  • Laureano lineout — 105.3 mph
  • Chaman double — 102.4 mph
  • Piscotty double — 103.7 mph

Anything over 95 is considered hard-hit, so these were absolute smashes. They didn’t just bloop some runs, they obliterated Heaney’s pitches.

The A’s are good enough to win in the late innings if they have to, but it’s been nice seeing them avoid that need these last few days by taking care of business earlier.

Rally #2

But wait, there’s more!

The A’s got going again in the 5th. As usual, Canha’s on-base ability was a central feature, as he sparked it by doubling with two outs already on the board. Matt Olson followed with another double, driving home Canha, and then Piscotty came through once more with a bouncer up the middle to bring home Olson.

All told, the A’s notched seven hard-hit balls off Heaney on this night, six of them at 100+ mph off the bat. They were all within the dozen sharpest pieces of contact overall in the game. They simply had Heaney’s number.

One more thing: Oakland went 3-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Progress for a team that has struggled to find that clutch hit all summer, and relied more on homers.

Piscotty 2 Hotty

After an injury-filled off-year in 2019, Piscotty started this summer 2-for-17. But since August began, he’s finally looked like his old star self in 17 games.

Piscotty, Aug: .290/.338/.548, 4 HR, 20 RBI

Those 20 RBI are tied for the MLB lead this month, with Fernando Tatis and Jose Abreu, The RBI isn’t a great stat, but in this case it does represent the value Piscotty has brought to the lineup so far. He’s been one of the few A’s who is repeatedly producing with men on base, including a pair of grand slams, and he’s played a leading role in multiple Oakland wins already because of it.

Of course, someone else has to reach in order for Piscotty to knock them in. That’s where Mark Canha comes, as he got aboard three more times on Friday and came all the way around to score on two of those occasions. He now has a .425 OBP on the year, and he also stole a base thanks to one of the biggest jumps I’ve ever seen a major leaguer take on a pitch.

Fiers good enough

Sometimes you just need a veteran starter to come in and eat some solid innings, and that’s what Mike Fiers has been for the A’s the last couple years. He did it again on Friday.

It wasn’t domination by any stretch, with a dozen runners reaching against him. Only in the perfect 2nd inning did he not let at least two men on base.

However, Fiers worked his way through most of it. He did nearly give up a three-run homer in the 1st inning, but it went foul by about 15 seats. Not until the 5th, on the Halos’ fourth try at a rally, did they finally cross the plate thanks to an Anthony Rendon RBI single.

They kept at it in the 6th, putting two more runners on to chase Fiers from the game. J.B. Wendelken relieved him and let both of the runners score (on a hit by Mike Trout, which it’s tough to criticize him for), but even still Fiers’ line was decent enough on a night when the A’s lineup did its part.

Fiers: 5⅓ ip, 3 runs, 3 Ks, 3 BB, 2 HBP, 0 HR, 7 hits, 88 pitches (51 strikes)

Despite all the production, the Angels didn’t make much good contact against Fiers. There were only two hard-hit balls, plus three more above 90 mph+, and more fluke hits than loud outs.

What’s more, one of the key hits against Fiers was one of the most ridiculous things you’ll see on an MLB field. This is Vladimir Guerrero-level expansion of the strike zone by David Fletcher.

I don’t know how he made contact, much less enough for an extra-base hit. Fletcher is just a quality player and a consistent thorn in the A’s side.

Bullpen

While Wendelken wasn’t able to strand the rally in the 6th, he still retained the lead and then the rest of the pen put up zeroes as usual.

In the 7th, T.J. McFarland got his usual two groundouts, plus a K and a HBP. In the 8th, Joakim Soria worked around a hit (by Fletcher, of course). Liam Hendriks pitched the 9th for the third day in a row and notched his MLB-leading ninth save.

But the real story here is Soria. The A’s signed him before 2019 hoping for a premium setup man, but they got a mediocre one instead, albeit with promising peripherals. This summer he’s morphed back into the guy Oakland thought they were getting, and maybe even better. His ERA and FIP are both below 2.00, and he’s striking out 11 batters per nine innings and four per walk. Most importantly, he’s converted all four of his save/hold chances, and of the six ties he’s been handed, the only one he blew was on an unearned run.

This was the pitch of the night, a nasty slider right in the zone to freeze the best player in the sport, Mike Trout, who at the time represented the tying run.

When you get the nod of approval from Trout himself, you’ve done something good.

Keep it rolling

These two teams face off again Saturday, with a pitching matchup of Chris Bassitt vs. Griffin Canning. Oakland has roughed up Canning twice already this year, so they’ll look to continue their streak of scoring early — not to mention their streak of winning, three games to be exact. First pitch is at 1:10 p.m.