It’s deja vu all over again, but funnier this time.
The Oakland A’s beat the San Francisco Giants on Saturday, and for the second straight day they did so by the score of 6-0. The game could have been much closer this time, but the Giants made a series of errors on both sides of the ball to dash any chances they may have had.
The first act was a pitcher’s duel between starters Jesús Luzardo and Kevin Gausman. Both threw six sparkling innings, with lots of strikeouts and few baserunners, but the difference came in the 4th. Each team threatened with two outs, but one side squandered their rally while the other capitalized.
In the top half of that frame the Giants put a pair of runners on base and then beat out another infield hit that should have loaded them, but a baserunning miscue by Donovan Solano on the back end of the play (combined with Platinum-caliber defense from Oakland first baseman Matt Olson) caused the third out and squashed the rally. In the bottom half, Mark Canha drew a two-out walk, alertly moved to second on a wild pitch that only strayed a few feet away from the catcher, and then scored on a clutch single by Olson. Either team could reasonably have been ahead 1-0 at this point, but it was the A’s who got it done.
Nothing much else happened until the 7th, at which point lots suddenly happened. With one on and one out, Jake Lamb made his daily highlight, blasting a two-run homer to right. Then the Giants outfield completely fell apart on defense — Darin Ruf dropped a flyout in LF but got bailed out with a force at second base, then Mauricio Dubon missed a tough but catchable ball in CF for a two-run “triple,” and then Ruf clanked another ball off the heel of his glove for an RBI “double.”
You don’t have to reach far to see a path where, if San Francisco made their plays on both sides of the ball, this could have been a 2-2 game going to extras. Instead, it was something of a laugher by the end, and Oakland walked away with another shutout victory. Their magic number for the division is down to one, with the Astros winning their own game tonight to keep the race alive.
Extra fun fact: The A’s have won all five meetings with the Giants this year. If they finish off the sweep in Sunday’s finale, it’ll be the first time either of these teams has ever swept the regular season series, dating back to 1997. The only sweep of any kind came in the 1989 World Series, and I think you know who won that. (It was Oakland.)
Top of the 4th inning
There are only two innings worth talking about from this contest, beginning with the 4th.
In the top half, San Francisco got something going for the first time. Donovan Solano lined a solid single, and two outs later the next batter drilled a grounder up the middle for another hit. Next up was a soft grounder to shortstop that should have ended the inning, but Marcus Semien made an uncharacteristic bobble and his throw got there late.
It was almost a huge gift for the Giants. They would’ve had the bases loaded, even if it was with two outs and the bottom third of the lineup coming up. It would have been a rally, at least.
But after the batter beat out his “infield single,” Solano rounded third base a bit too aggressively. First baseman Matt Olson noticed and whipped a throw across the diamond, in plenty of time to nab Solano diving back into the bag. That was the third out, and the budding rally was canceled.
Make a mistake and Oly will take advantage pic.twitter.com/pCgHlhCMIU— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 19, 2020
This is the third time in the last several games that Olson has thrown out a runner at third base. It feels like I say this a lot lately, but almost no other first baseman would even try this throw, either because they couldn’t or because it’s not worth the risk of throwing it away. Olson pulls it off routinely now, every couple days or so.
Also remember that he’s not working with Matt Chapman anymore. The third baseman he threw to was a guy who has played all of five games as Olson’s teammate, and it still looked as natural as ever.
Bottom of the 4th
Having avoided damage in the top half, the A’s struck in the bottom half.
The first two batters went down, but Mark Canha drew a walk. It seemed innocent enough at the time, just a runner on first with two outs.
But then it escalated quickly. Olson came to bat, and the first pitch went in the dirt, glanced off the catcher’s pad, and skipped away. It only went about 20 feet, but that was enough for Canha to hustle his way to second base, getting such an immediate jump that he didn’t even draw a throw.
Two pitches later, Olson poked a liner up the middle and around the shift to drive home Canha. Skip to 0:13 in this video to see the RBI hit.
This inning really set the tone for the rest of the game. The A’s gave the Giants an opening with Semien’s miscue, but the Giants refused to take advantage, offering their own whoopsie right back on the very same play. And conversely, in the bottom half when the Giants slipped just a tiny bit, like issuing a two-out free pass or uncorking an only slightly wild pitch, Oakland capitalized and turned it into a run thanks to plate discipline, quality baserunning, and situational hitting.
On that final note, I can’t say for sure but it didn’t look like a coincidence that Olson beat the shift like he did. He appeared to shorten up his swing in an effort to guide it the other way, as opposed to his usually mighty and pull-heavy rip for the fences. If that’s true, then chalk up an extra point for the A’s in terms of performing the kinds of fundamentals that turn opportunities into runs.
San Francisco’s sloppy 4th loomed even larger by the 7th, as Olson’s RBI continued to stand as the only run of the game. But once the Giants turned to their bullpen, Oakland immediately broke the score open.
The first batter got out. The second batter singled. The third batter was Jake Lamb, and he continued his torrid welcome tour with a homer.
That’s Lamb’s second dinger in five games for Oakland, after hitting *checks notes* zero for Arizona all year.
That would have been enough insurance on its own, but then the Giants’ outfield defense completely fell apart. No actual errors were charged, but they bricked three fly balls that they really should have caught and it led to three more runs.
With Robbie Grossman on first base and one out, a flyball went to Darin Ruf in left field. It was a routine play, and he camped under the ball for several moments, but when it came down he clanked it off the heel of his glove. With Grossman thinking the ball had been caught and retreating to first base, Ruf threw it in to force him out at second, but his throw bounced past Solano and all the way to first base. There it was collected and thrown back to second, just barely beating Grossman in time for the out.
Error? No error was given on that play, presumably because a force out was eventually recorded, but it was a sign of things to come.
Later, with two on and two out, Tommy La Stella smoked a drive deep to center. It was legit contact that Statcast says falls for a hit more often than not, but center fielder Mauricio Dubon was there in plenty of time to catch it. He jumped but didn’t need to, and he got his glove on it, but he couldn’t squeeze it and the ball bounced away. Both runners scored, and La Stella ended up at third with what was ruled a triple.
Error? Maybe it would have been harsh to call this an error, but Dubon didn’t have to move very far, and he did indeed get a glove on it, which is usually the key element in such a decision.
Finally, Ruf wrapped things up by dropping another one. This was by far the toughest play of the three, as he had to run pretty far to get to the ball, but he was there in time to grab it. Instead, he went into a slide and the ball caromed off the edge of his glove rather than settling inside of it. La Stella scored, and Semien was awarded an RBI double.
Error? Ruf probably had to run too far for this to ever count as an error, and it would have been a nice catch for sure. It wasn’t fully routine. But dang, he was there and got a glove on it, and I think most other left fielders would have gotten there too and then also caught it. Like with Dubon’s, it’s probably too much for an official error in the box score, but fans know these plays could and should have been made.
Here’s a look at La Stella’s triple, and Semien’s double.
However you want to score it in the books, it was now 6-0, and the game was effectively over.
Quick shout out for Jesús Luzardo, who had arguably the best start of his young career so far with six scoreless innings against a hot Giants lineup.
Luzardo: 6 ip, 0 runs, 7 Ks, 0 BB, 5 hits, 90 pitches (61 strikes)
He allowed only four pieces of hard contact, three of which went for outs. Mix in 15 swinging strikes (one out of every six pitches), plus no walks or extra-base hits, and this was pure domination.
He’d carried a shutout into the 7th in another start but issued a couple walks along the way, and another time he finished seven frames but let through a pair of runs. Saturday may have been his best yet.
Luzardo used a new grip for his slider today and it was 88-89 mph, 4-5 mph more than his norm. “I just gripped it and said, ‘I’m going to throw this with conviction,’ and it worked,” he said.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) September 19, 2020
The Statcast numbers do reflect that uptick, as his breaking ball (they call it a curve) went up 3 mph on average, He threw it 14 times and got four whiffs, three fouls, a called strike, and two pieces of low-percentage contact, though those aren’t unusual results for it.
Teammate Sean Manaea is a fan of the rookie.
Manaea LOVES Luzardo strikeouts... even in the middle of an interview pic.twitter.com/DfI93GODal— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 19, 2020
All that said, we can gush about Luzardo and still take a moment to laugh at the ridiculous strike zones we continue to see in 2020.
First pitch of the game. If that’s the strike zone, it’s gonna be a good day for the pitchers pic.twitter.com/GFLe5Jsz6l— Ben Ross (@BenRossTweets) September 19, 2020
Every time you miss a call that bad, Angel Hernandez gets a royalty check.
The A’s go for the historic sweep on Sunday, not just of this weekend but of the whole Bay Bridge season series. It’ll be Mike Minor against Tyler Anderson in a battle of southpaws in the East Bay.