The slow start to 2021 is officially over.
Sure, the Oakland A’s aren’t done climbing all the way out of the hole they dug in the standings, still holding a 3-7 record and a spot in the AL West cellar. But after dropping their first six contests, they’ve now won three of the next four, all against top-notch opponents.
The latest triumph was a comfortable 7-3 win over the Houston Astros, earning the A’s their first series win of the year in the three-game slate, and on the road no less. That comes just days after Houston swept the green-and-gold in four dates at the Coliseum, and Oakland looked every bit as dominant as their division rivals had in their first matchup.
Just like the previous night in a similar victory, the A’s looked great on both sides of the ball. They got a quality start from their rotation, a new season-high in scoring from their lineup for the second straight day, and enough outs from their bullpen to finish it off.
It took until the second turn through the order for Oakland to heat up at the plate against Astros starter Jose Urquidy, but when they did it was scalding. The 4th inning began with sharp contact from four out of five batters, and instead of going directly to gloves it all found turf for singles — Ramon Laureano (104.0 mph exit velocity), Jed Lowrie (105.2), Matt Olson (103.0), and Sean Murphy (101.6). Olson got nabbed being a bit too aggressive on the bases, but the rally still produced two runs, and the first hit of the year for Murphy (click for video).
In the 5th, Mark Canha added his own rocket single (100.9 mph), and then Laureano got some elevation under one of his lasers. He sent it 415 feet into orbit for another pair of runs.
Houston turned to their bullpen in the 7th, but the A’s didn’t stop piling on. They loaded up the bases and Lowrie dunked a single to center to plate two of them, wrapping up the four-inning-long, hard-contact rally with one bloopy duck-snort just for flair.
The Astros finally answered back in the 8th with their own string of smash hits, cutting the six-run lead in half. But Oakland answered back with a dagger to reassert their dominance, as Seth Brown exploded for a 424-foot solo homer.
It was the first dinger of Brown’s career, after a long wait. He debuted in the majors in 2019, with a pair of 30-homer seasons under his belt in the minors to prove his muscle, but he toiled through 101 plate appearances over sporadic pieces of three summers before finally going deep in his 102nd try.
Can't think of a better parting gift for Houston than dropping a big ol' Brownie in their upper deck.— Alex Hall (@AlexHallAN) April 10, 2021
Even when the lineup was struggling to score during the opening week, there were always a few hot hitters among the group, especially Canha, Laureano, Lowrie, and to an extent Olson. The luck was always going to even out, and today it did — they kept making monstrous contact, and now it acted like it’s supposed to and they sequenced some of it together rather than scattering it harmlessly and then striking out whenever there was a chance to cash in. This is why they play 162 games.
Canha, Laureano, & Lowrie: 7-for-14, HR, walk, 4 RBI, 5 runs scored, SB,
Nice to have that trio batting in the top three spots of the order. They now have hefty wRC+ marks of 159, 160, and 135, respectively, and each has homered at least once. The team as a whole was 4-for-7 with runners in scoring position today.
Oakland managed only 19 runs in their first eight games. Now they’ve got 13 in just their last two. This offense is gonna be alright.
From woes to whoas
The pitching staff might just be alright too. After allowing 35 runs to the Astros in four games at the Coliseum, evenly spread with no fewer than eight in each contest, they limited it to six, two, and three in the follow-up series in Houston.
On Saturday it was Frankie Montas’ turn. His 2021 debut had been a shellacking at the hands of the defending World Series champion Dodgers, but his encore was more in line with the high expectations we have for him. The Astros did almost nothing against him for the first five frames, before finally finding a few barrels and ultimately a solo homer to knock him out leading off the 7th.
Montas: 6 ip, 1 run, 5 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR, 6 hits, 100 pitches, 85.2 mph exit velo
His fastball averaged 96 and topped at 98, he threw strikes, he earned whiffs, and generally tossed a gem that rivals Sean Manaea last night (almost identical line) for the best start of the year so far.
The bullpen had a brief hiccup, as Sergio Romo got knocked around for a couple runs in the 7th, but Jake Diekman and J.B. Wendelken combined to retire six of the final eight batters to end it. We’ll wait another day to find out who might earn the club’s first save of the year.
"The vibe is changing for sure," Frankie Montas said.— Matt Kawahara (@matthewkawahara) April 10, 2021
Does anybody still doubt the 2021 A’s? Of course they have question marks like any roster, from an inexperienced rotation, to a suddenly open closer role, to a couple rickety lineup spots. But what they haven’t done is suddenly stopped being good in the ways they were supposed to, with a powerful lineup and a great defense and a pitching staff that can carve through a game, so the question shifts away from whether they can win games and back to whether they’ll win enough games, as it should be.
The A’s didn’t make the playoffs today, but they sure did remove a lot of the doubt that they are legitimate contenders to do so. And now, after 10 straight games against two juggernaut opponents who each played in at least half of the last four World Series and each won a ring with their current big-budget core, Oakland now gets a crack against a couple bottom-feeders in the last-place D’Backs and Tigers.