The Oakland A’s lineup got off to a slow start in the opening days of the season. After a couple nice performances against the Angels, they went cold for a week, scoring just 16 runs over six games mostly thanks to futility in the clutch hitting department. The pitching staff was helping them win games anyway, but that only masked the temporary lack of offense.
The slump appears to be over. The A’s heated up over the last few days, putting up 28 runs over four games. The comparison is stark.
- A’s, gms #4-9: 2.7 runs/g, 4 HR, .544 OPS, 1BB:3K, 5-for-41 w/RISP
- A’s, gms #10-13: 7.0 runs/g, 8 HR, .839 OPS, 1BB:2K, 11-for-32 w/RISP
In that first split, most of the lineup was running cold and nobody could find the big hit to drive in runners from scoring position, if they even reached base at all. Ramon Laureano and Mark Canha were the only two hitters consistently producing, and they were the primary offensive heroes on multiple occasions.
This week, the rest of the group has begun to shown signs of life. Laureano and Canha are still doing great too, but they have help, and that’s immediately apparent in the improved team stats. Here’s a quick run through some of the rising performers:
- Matt Olson grew a mustache and his power came back. He’s homered three times in the last two games since debuting the stache, and overall he’s second in the majors in walks.
- Stephen Piscotty had three straight multi-hit games, culminating in a walk-off grand slam on Tuesday.
- Khris Davis finally hit his first homer on Monday, and he added a clutch bases-loaded two-run single on Thursday.
- Matt Chapman hit a late game-tying homer in an eventual win on Tuesday.
- Tony Kemp has reached base in seven of his last 12 plate appearances.
- Among catchers, Sean Murphy reached base three times on Monday and had an RBI single on Thursday, and Austin Allen hit his first career homer on Wednesday to give the A’s a late comeback lead.
There are still four or five players in the lineup every day who are under the Mendoza Line, but they’re trending up toward regression to normalcy. Only Marcus Semien is still fully struggling, and Robbie Grossman has also cooled off. More importantly, over the last few days we’ve seen all the things that were missing from the early slump.
Monday was an 11-1 rout that saw seven hits with runners in scoring position. They got some help from walks and shaky opposing defense, but they still capitalized on a ton of opportunities, just like a great team should. Tuesday was more subdued against an ace-level opposing starter, but they got to the bullpen for a dramatic walk-off. Wednesday they simply slugged their way to victory, with all their runs coming on four dingers, and then on Thursday they pieced together a legit small-ball rally with only walks and clutch singles and a sac fly.
Regarding that Thursday game, another encouraging development is that they did their damage off the starter. Their 2020 split, before facing Mike Minor on Thursday:
- vs. SP (265 PAs): .184/.254/.286, 8.6% BB, 29.5% Ks
- vs. RP (214 PAs): .237/.390/.432, 16.4% BB, 23.8% Ks
Up to this point, they’ve been mostly quiet against starting pitchers, even in games when they score well. On Opening Day, four of their seven runs came on Olson’s grand slam in extras, and most of their 11-run Monday outburst came off Seattle’s bullpen after a mostly solid outing by their starter (he was scoreless through four innings). They couldn’t touch Lance Lynn on Tuesday and only won with Piscotty’s slam against Texas’ pen, and the next day Kyle Gibson was in line to beat them when he exited but they came back against the relievers once more. The only time they tagged a starter was against Shohei Ohtani, and he may have already been hurt (or at least clearly wasn’t right).
But against Minor, who finished eighth in Cy Young voting last year, they were able to score early. Olson went deep in his first at-bat, and then the whole four-run rally in the 4th came against the southpaw starter. It wasn’t enough to register significantly on the splits above (vs. SP went up to .185/.257/.294), but it was the first step in a positive direction.
The A’s pitching staff has been one of the best in the majors so far, with both the rotation and bullpen performing well so far, and they have great defensive ability all over the field. We already know that the lineup is one of the most talented in the league, based on their Top 10 scoring totals each of the last two seasons and sixth-place overall scoring rank in 2018-19 combined. If those hitters get hot now too, and all cylinders are firing at once, then this A’s team will be extremely tough to beat.