The Oakland A’s are the best defensive team in the majors, but even a working clock breaks twice a day (or something like that?).
Some uncharacteristic defensive lapses loomed large as the A’s dropped a winnable game to the Los Angeles Angels. The final score was 4-3, but two of the Halos’ runs were unearned thanks to three fielding errors and a couple more glaring miscues, and all four runs were avoidable.
The most costly mistakes came in the early innings, from the last source you’d expect — Platinum Glover Matt Chapman, the single best fielder in the sport. He made an errant throw home in the 1st trying to nab a runner, then in the 2nd he missed chance on his signature play charging in for a swinging bunt and later made an outright error on a potential inning-ending double play ball.
Even without those goofs, A’s starter Chris Bassitt wasn’t his sharpest. The Angels smashed 11 hard-hit balls off him, out of 19 batted balls overall, and seven of those were above 100 mph in exit velocity. Mix in a couple of walks and he would have been living on the edge no matter what his teammates did behind him — and, to be fair, the A’s did make some nice plays too.
On the other side of the ball, Oakland fell into an old habit by going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. They did manage to put up a few runs, but missed several chances to add to their total.
It took only three batters into the game for the first defensive miscue. With a runner on third and one out, Mike Trout hit a grounder directly at Matt Chapman. It was hard enough to get there quickly, but not too hot to handle.
Throwing home to get the runner on a non-force is never a completely routine play, but there are times when it’s pretty close to that guaranteed status. In this case, the runner was only halfway to the plate by the time Chapman threw, meaning there was plenty of time get him. Probably 99 times out of 100, Chapman gets the out and makes it look easy.
This was that other time. Chapman’s throw short-hopped catcher Austin Allen, and Allen wasn’t able to catch it nor collect it in time to make the tag. That hoppy throw works when it’s to Pickin’ Machine Matt Olson at first base, but this play required more of a strike.
It got worse in the 2nd inning. With a runner on second and one out, the batter dribbled a swinging bunt to the left side, about 60 feet from the plate. This is Chapman’s specialty. When I close my eyes at night to go to sleep, I see him sprinting from a shifted shortstop position to field a Dee Gordon bunt and throw out one of the fastest players in recent history. Over and over and over, and not the same play recurring but rather all of the many times he’s done it to Gordon as well as to others.
This time, he couldn’t convert. He fielded the ball but his throw pulled Olson off the bag at first; it was going to be close either way, but the runner probably would have been out with Chappy’s normal great throw.
That made it runners on the corners with one out. David Fletcher came up next and hit a routine grounder right at Chapman, for what should have been a tailor-made 5-4-3 inning-ending double play. But Chapman clanked the grounder entirely, and by the time he went back to pick it up everyone was safe — including another runner at home. This was the only one of these three plays officially ruled an error.
The inning could have been over at this point, but instead it continued. Two batters later Trout demolished a double (111.4 mph exit velo), bringing home both runners to make it 4-0.
With normal, strong A’s defense, or even just a normal day from their Platinum Glove third baseman, this might have been a 3-0 Oakland victory. Every single run the Angels scored was the result of a gift from the A’s, even after considering how well the Halos hit the ball all day.
Those weren’t even the only mistakes, just the ones that cost runs. In the 1st inning second baseman Tony Kemp bricked a grounder, in the 7th shortstop Marcus Semien muffed one, and in the 5th left fielder Robbie Grossman dropped a foul fly — it wasn’t routine by any means (and correctly wasn’t called an error), but he got there in plenty of time and put a glove on it, meaning it was absolutely a catchable ball.
I see the A’s, too, are sick of 2020 and have decided to flashback to 2016 defensively.— Melissa Lockard (@melissalockard) August 22, 2020
Fortunately, none of those shanks ended up mattering, so the bright side would be to say that those players at least got it out of their system. Semien and Grossman were Gold Glove finalists last year, and Kemp is perfectly solid at the keystone, so this day is not representative of their talent levels nor their normal everyday performances.
What’s more, in Kemp’s case, he immediately atoned for it. Two batters later, he made a diving play on a 105.6 mph liner, and flipped the ball to second for a heads-up double play — eliminating the very runner he’d let on, and ending the inning.
That’s a hell of a play by Tony Kemp pic.twitter.com/elctuDWCgr— Ben Ross (@BenRossTweets) August 22, 2020
Moving forward, I’m willing to bet we’ll see more of that than the errors.
Almost enough scoring
Even after spotting their opponent four early tallies, the A’s still nearly came back. Kemp doubled in a run in the 2nd, and Chapman got one of his unearned runs back with a solo homer in the 4th.
In the 5th, Olson doubled in Ramon Laureano to make it 4-3, but they couldn’t muster the fourth run to tie it.
The A’s had runners in scoring position in four different innings, but couldn’t bring any of them home. The homer came with the bases empty, and the RBI doubles drove home runners from first base, but further opportunities were squandered in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th.
Then it got even worse, as the opportunities themselves disappeared. After Olson’s double in the 5th (and a walk by Chapman), Oakland’s final 13 batters were retired in order by one of the worst and least clutch bullpens in the majors. Welp.
There’s not much to say about Chris Bassitt. He wasn’t his best, but he was good enough to win under normal circumstances. He’s not the story of this game for better or worse.
Bassitt: 5⅔ ip, 4 runs (2 earned) (0 deserved), 6 Ks, 2 BB, 2 BB, 0 HR, 6 hits
He threw 105 pitches in under six innings, and only 63 went for strikes, so, again, we’ve seen him be stronger than this.
The bullpen kept rolling, though. Lou Trivino, T.J. McFarland, and Yusmeiro Petit combined to face 13 batters and retire nine of them — of the four runners, one reached on Semien’s error, and another was later picked off first base.
Even great teams play a bad game every so often, and this was one of those. There’s nothing here to worry about moving forward — Chapman’s skill is unquestionable even after an off-day, and the lineup can score even on their un-clutch days if they tap into enough of their plus-plus power. No pitcher is great in every start, but Bassitt is effective more often than not. The bullpen still posted zeroes, and these weren’t even the club’s top relief stars.
Brush this one off and enjoy your Saturday. Win Sunday and you win the series, and if you win every series you’ll go to the playoffs with full home-field advantage. The A’s are still the best team in the American League.
Frankie Montas vs. Dylan Bundy tomorrow, 1:10 p.m.