The short 2020 season brings extra importance to riding the hot hands when possible, rather than waiting too long for slumps to end and small-sample trends to gradually regress to normalcy.
The Oakland A’s, coming off a frustrating evening at the plate on Monday, took that cue and shuffled their lineup Tuesday to better highlight their current top performers. It seems to have worked, on this night at least.
The A’s plated double-digit runs to defeat the Texas Rangers 10-3, evening the series at a game apiece and earning the green and gold their first-ever win at the new Globe Life Field in Arlington. Their 21-10 record once again gives them sole possession of first place in the entire American League.
Oakland’s lineup contained most of the usual names, just in a different order. Breakout star Robbie Grossman moved up from the sixth spot to second in the order, and RBI machine Stephen Piscotty shifted from seventh up to fifth. Meanwhile, the scuffling Ramon Laureano was dropped from second down to seventh, and Matt Olson went from the 3-4-5 heart down to sixth. Three of those players responded with productive games.
Piscotty drove in three runs with a double, Grossman drove in one and scored another, and Olson launched a towering homer and reached base three times, while Laureano took an 0-fer but still provided good defensive work in center field.
Two other hitters who stayed in their normal lineup spots also had big days. Leadoff man Marcus Semien matched Olson with a homer and three times on base, and pesky eighth-place hitter Tony Kemp repeatedly reached base and then came around to score three runs, including some phenomenal baserunning. On top of all that, catcher Jonah Heim made his MLB debut and recorded a hit, a walk, and a solid defensive showing.
On the other side of the ball, starter Sean Manaea completed five innings for his third straight appearance, allowed just one earned run (out of three total), and didn’t issue a walk for the fourth time in seven outings. The bullpen came in for its customary four scoreless, stress-free frames, without using any of their top setup men. And just like that, the A’s got right back on track to begin the second half of the 2020 campaign.
This game started out like Monday’s contest, with both teams trading runs early on.
Texas struck first with an RBI single in the bottom of the 2nd. Oakland responded in the 3rd, scoring from third on a wild pitch. The A’s then took a lead in the 4th, on an absolute moonshot by Matt Olson.
That’s 453 feet of pure Oly thunder. It’s also especially encouraging for a hitter who was 3-for-29 with one homer and a dozen strikeouts over his previous eight games.
Oakland extended their lead further in the 5th. This time it was Marcus Semien with the fireworks, pushing the score to 5-1.
But the Rangers weren’t done yet. They loaded the bases in the 5th, thanks in part to a muffed play by Semien at shortstop to give them an extra opportunity, and they used the free spin to plate two unearned runs with a single.
Halfway through, we had ourselves a ballgame, with a 5-3 tally.
And then, suddenly, we didn’t have a ballgame anymore, because the A’s broke it wide open.
The knockout punch came in the 7th, and it’s not a stretch to credit the entire episode to Tony Kemp. It’s one thing to spark a rally, but he practically dragged this one to the house all on his own.
With one out, Kemp singled. It was just a sharp grounder to second, but 2B Yadiel Rivera couldn’t handle it and the ball glanced off his glove. He recovered in time to make the throw, but Kemp was busting it down the line and beat it out. This could reasonably have been ruled an error, but I have no problem rewarding Kemp with a hit for his pure hustle.
Next up was switch-hitting catcher Jonah Heim, who blooped a soft liner the other way for his first MLB hit. I’ll never understand how this next part happened, because Kemp wasn’t even running on the pitch, but somehow he made it all the way to third base without a throw on a line-drive single to left field.
Kemp had already done enough, but the next play is where he changed the game. Semien hit a grounder to third, and with one out on the board it should have been an easy inning-ending double play. But the nettlesome Kemp gummed things up by breaking for the plate, distracting third baseman Todd Frazier and drawing a completely unnecessary throw home.
If Kemp had been out at the plate, it would still have been a great play because he at least extended the inning by avoiding the GIDP. But Frazier’s throw was in the dirt, which gave time for Kemp to stop on a dime, turn around, and scamper back to third. The catcher’s throw beat him, but he unleashed one of the most incredible, acrobatic slides you’ll ever see to somehow wriggle his way safely back to the bag. Pure wizard status.
If you have any doubt about the call here, just look at Frazier (not actually visible in the GIF above, sorry). In the age of instant replay, if he thought there was any chance he’d tagged Kemp then he’d be up on his feet hopping and signaling to the dugout. But he just sat there, thinking about what he’d done. Or hadn’t done. Or what Kemp just did.
The inning should have been over. Or at least, two on and two out. But through sheer will, Kemp turned it into bases loaded, one out. The A’s didn’t squander the chance.
Robbie Grossman walked to push across a run. Matt Chapman struck out, but Mark Canha was hit by a pitch to force another one home. And then Stephen Piscotty maintained his team lead in RBI, lining a double to clear ‘em all and blow the score open at 10-3. Game effectively over.
Perhaps it was more of a well-placed single, but that doesn’t matter. It was the hit the A’s needed to put the icing on the cake Kemp had baked.
Without Kemp’s three amazing hustle plays, none of this happens and not a single run crosses the plate. He can have 5 RBI here for all I care.
And that wasn’t even all. It was Kemp who scored on the wild pitch in the 3rd, and he didn’t really have any business even making the attempt. The pitch in the dirt bounced maybe 20 feet from the plate, and Kemp got such a huge jump that he slid across safely before the catcher could even make a throw. Stunning. Have a game, Tony.
New King of Arlington?
Khris Davis notoriously owned the old Globe Life Park. He hit 19 homers there in 36 games, including some dramatic game-winners, and posted an 1.150 OPS.
But Globe Life Park is no more, and there’s a new king emerging at Globe Life Field. Marcus Semien is off to a nice start in Arlington’s latest digs.
Semien, @ TEX: 6-for-9, HR, 2b, BB, 2 RBI, 2 runs
It’s just two games, but dang. He came to town with a paltry 64 wRC+, and he’s already raised that mark to 87 in a pair of evenings. I look forward to him going 5-for-4 on Wednesday.
Manaea keeps cruising
It took a few weeks, but Sean Manaea is looking like a viable starter once more.
The lefty tossed five innings on Tuesday, for the third straight appearance after failing to do so in each of his first four. He avoided the big 4th and/or 5th innings that have sunk him in the past as he goes through the opposing lineup for a second time. Texas went 2-for-8 with a HBP the second time through, or 3-for-11 if you count the beginning of the third time through. All of those hits were singles.
Manaea: 5 ip, 3 runs (1 earned), 3 Ks, 0 BB, 0 HR, 6 hits, 86 pitches (55 strikes)
There was plenty of hard contact, and not a ton of missed bats, but he kept things under control. It can’t be stressed enough how much the lack of walks has helped, as he’s avoided beating himself by issuing too many free runners. (Case in point: When he hit Robinson Chirinos with a pitch, the catcher did come around to score a run that didn’t need to happen.) His five walks among 130 batters faced give him a 3.9% rate, 24th-best among 322 MLB pitches with at least 10 innings of work.
Manaea, last 3 gms: 15⅓ ip, 4 ER, 12 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR, 14 hits, 2.83 FIP
He’s not pitching like an ace by any means, but he’s contributing now. Oakland has won each of this last three improved starts.
A tale as old as time. The A’s turned to their bullpen, and the other team never scored again.
This time it was T.J. McFarland with an easy 6th, including a pair of groundouts plus a strikeout of star slugger Joey Gallo. Lou Trivino followed with two filthy frames, retiring six of his seven batters including three strikeouts. And then Jordan Weems, fresh off the injured list, breezed through a perfect 9th.
Bullpen: 4 ip, 0 runs, 5 Ks, 0 BB, 2 hits, 56 pitches (38 strikes)
Again, these aren’t even the top relievers. These are the middle men. Good gravy.
The A’s had a scary moment leading off the 4th inning, when Matt Chapman got beaned in the head by a pitch.
Fortunately, for now it seems Chappy is OK. Also, respect to pitcher Kyle Gibson, who offered a human moment amid tense competition.
That ball nearly hit Chapman's face. Could read Kyle Gibson's lips saying: "I'm sorry, man."— Martín Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) August 26, 2020
The A’s now lead the American League by getting hit with 24 pitches so far.
Keep it rolling
The two teams meet again Wednesday, with Semien presumably leading off with a quintomer, a new thing he invented where you homer and get back around to first base again. Kemp will somehow score on the play, from the dugout bench.
It’ll be Mike Fiers vs. lefty Kolby Allard, armed with a 7.82 ERA.