The Oakland A’s team we saw on Monday looked like one that could win some postseason series next month.
The green and gold fired on all cylinders, with timely and consistent hitting, strong starting pitching, and zeroes from their bullpen, adding up to a 6-0 victory over the Houston Astros. The A’s increased their AL West division lead over Houston to 4.5 games by capturing the opener of this week’s five-game showdown series at the Coliseum.
Tonight’s conversation begins with starting pitcher Chris Bassitt. The right-hander had struggled over his previous four appearances and was lit up by these very Astros his last time out, but on Monday he gutted through seven shutout innings. There was a lot of hard contact, and he missed almost no bats, and Houston rallied to put multiple runners on base in three different innings, but Bassitt found a way to stop them every time things got dicey — a couple times with clutch whiffs on his big loopy curve.
huge K by Bassitt there. His curveball is filthy tonight pic.twitter.com/09CPd4bZ7q— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) September 8, 2020
Statistically, it was his best start of the season so far.
Bassitt: 7 ip, 0 runs, 4 Ks, 0 BB, 0 HR, 7 hits, 89 pitches (58 strikes)
While Bassitt was tossing goose eggs onto the scoreboard, Oakland’s lineup put constant pressure on the Astros’ pitching. They scored early against the opposing starter, and then kept piling on in the later innings, a combination they haven’t been able to put together in a single game often enough this year. Sometimes they build an early lead and then go silent, and sometimes they fall behind but rally back late, but this was an example of staying strong from wire to wire.
Included within their six runs was a 3-for-6 mark with runners in scoring position, another season-long shortcoming in 2020. In other words, they did everything that fans have been hoping to see them start doing in order to have a more reliable offensive attack. And they still hit a dinger for good measure.
Another encouraging sign is who hit that long ball — catcher Sean Murphy, his second in as many days but only his fourth of the summer. He hits the ball as hard as anyone on the team according to exit velocity, so to see him suddenly get hot right as a couple key hitters are missing from the lineup (Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien both sat out with minor injuries) would be an especially huge boost. Murphy also added a two-run single in the 8th to really put the game away.
While Murphy was the primary star on offense, Tony Kemp and Stephen Piscotty both added RBI hits as well, and Ramon Laureano notched a sac fly to drive in another.
The A’s wrapped up with an inning from Jake Diekman and another from Lou Trivino, with Trivino breezing through his three outs using only three pitches.
Wire to wire
As noted, the impressive part of the A’s performance at the plate was how they kept scoring from start to finish. They got to work in the 2nd inning, with Tony Kemp launching a booming double to the wall to drive home a runner from second base for the first run of the day. However, Kemp was later caught trying to steal third base, and replay confirmed the call.
Kemp was called out on the field and after review... thoughts? pic.twitter.com/VH71YJF0Qh— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 8, 2020
I was upset about the botched replay call on Sunday, but this one was fine. I think Kemp was probably safe, but I don’t know he was, and the decision not to overturn is defensible given the available evidence.
None of that changes the fact that this out cost the A’s a run, even if it was their own fault in this case. A couple pitches later, Murphy homered, with the bases freshly empty.
Oakland kept putting runners on base, but it took until the 7th inning to break through again. This time Murphy played the role of table setter, drawing a leadoff walk and moving to third on a single. Ramon Laureano gave the A’s all they needed, a simple sac fly, to cash in on the rally with an insurance run. That doesn’t even count in their 3-for-6 with runners in scoring position, so functionally it was more like 4-for-7.
The green and gold put the game away for good in the 8th. A leadoff walk and a productive groundout put a runner on second, and RBI machine Stephen Piscotty maintained his team lead in that stat with a run-scoring single. After a double by Chad Pinder, Murphy came up and did his third good thing of the day.
Don’t look now, but the rookie suddenly has a 114 wRC+ thanks to a decent OBP and the beginnings of some slugging. This would be quite a serendipitous moment in the season for him to find his groove.
Play of the game
Bassitt impressed in more ways than just his pitching. This defensive play wasn’t particularly consequential in the outcome of the game, but it’s a heck of a highlight.
Now strap in, because Tuesday brings a doubleheader between these two teams. Each half will last only seven innings, and the first one features Zack Greinke on the mound for Houston, which tends to make for quick games. But it will still be a full afternoon and evening of baseball, and this is one of the most important days remaining in the season, with two notches in the division standings up for grabs. The action begins at 3:10 p.m.