For the first time this season, the Oakland A’s played a game against a team other than the Astros or Dodgers. And for the third straight game, they set a season-high in scoring.
The A’s won their road series opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday, by a comfortable 9-5 margin. After totaling just 19 runs in their first eight games of the year, Oakland has now scored six, seven, and nine over their most recent contests.
From start to finish, the A’s kept the pressure on, finding the plate in five different innings including the 1st and 9th. They took an immediate early lead against Arizona starter Madison Bumgarner, held it through a couple D’Backs rallies, and continued piling on insurance all night to avoid letting their opponent back into the game.
The usual suspects led the way for Oakland, as Mark Canha, Ramon Laureano, and Jed Lowrie stayed hot for a combined 5-for-12 at the top of the order, with a walk and two runs scored for each. Lowrie also chipped in three RBI, split between a pair of clutch at-bats. And that trio got some help this time, as Matt Chapman went 3-for-5 with a homer, and Sean Murphy added a pair of doubles.
The party began right away. Canha led off the game with a sharp double and stole third, and Lowrie knocked him in with a groundout. In the 3rd, Canha and Laureano both reached, then Lowrie doubled them in. Somehow, “Jed Lowrie drives in runs against Madison Bumgarner” is still a sentence you can write in 2021.
Lowrie was involved again in the 5th, this time as a table-setter, but Laureano stole the show. He and Lowrie both reached, and Laureano got caught drifting off second base by Bumgarner. The southpaw should have easily nabbed Laureano but instead threw the ball wide into left field, letting Ramon score and moving Lowrie to third.
A sac fly by Matt Olson plated the run, and then Chapman drilled a homer to remove any doubt about the rally (104 mph EV, 393 feet).
At this point the lead was 6-2, but Arizona answered back to bring it within one. Fortunately Oakland’s lineup didn’t rest on that slim advantage, adding some extra cushion for their bullpen.
The 8th inning featured a different section of the lineup, with a Stephen Piscotty double and an Elvis Andrus RBI single. By the time Chapman and Murphy notched RBI hits in the 9th, the margin had grown enough that there wasn’t even a save situation anymore.
Nine runs on 12 hits, four walks, a couple HBPs, and three steals. Six of the runs came off Bumgarner. Oakland went 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position but also added a sac fly and an RBI groundout, so that RISP line doesn’t quite tell the whole story (may as well be 5-for-15 in terms of success).
Last three games: 22 runs, .283/.358/.500, 6 HR, 30 hits, 10 BB, .377 xwOBA
That’s more like it.
There were a couple odd moments along the path to nine runs.
In the 2nd inning, MLB blew yet another replay review. With two runners on base, Piscotty smoked the hardest-hit ball of the evening, 106.1 mph exit velo. But Gold Glove shortstop Nick Ahmed, perhaps the best defensive SS in the majors right now, made an incredible leap to snare it out of the air. What’s worse, he had time to flip to second to double off the runner. A potential run-scoring hit turned into an inning-ending double play.
But wait! Murphy should have been safe. It was close, maybe even tie-goes-to-the-runner, but there’s no argument that the second baseman beat him to the bag.
This is the closest I can get without slowing down the feed. Murphy's fingers came down, not straight in (so he wouldn't jam them) but his thumb is even there. This is the exact moment VanMeter's toe hit the bag. Not sure how it could be possible for Murphy to have not been safe. pic.twitter.com/rDooWVGueA— Alex Hall (@AlexHallAN) April 13, 2021
Under the current rules, the only possible argument for “out” is that it was too close to overturn. Which calls into question why that’s the standard, rather than just erasing the call on the field and sending it to the booth for a fresh look. But that’s a story for another article, and what matters for now is the call was wrong in truth but probably justifiable by rule, and either way it didn’t matter because the A’s weren’t facing a World Series pitching staff so they got more opportunities later and cashed in on those.
In fact, one of those later opportunities involved Piscotty himself sliding into home plate, with another replay review that this time correctly went in his favor (safe call upheld).
Piscotty called it how he saw it pic.twitter.com/Ii0pEolG0u— Oakland A's (@Athletics) April 13, 2021
Later, the A’s got their own lucky break. Laureano’s helmet came loose as he was sprinting to the plate, and he swatted it the rest of the way off, but rather than falling to the ground it bounced straight into catcher Stephen Vogt, who was waiting to receive a throw. Laureano would have scored either way, but the resulting error did give Oakland an extra base.
This play didn’t end up mattering but it’s still interesting to consider. If it happens to your team, you’re pissed. When it goes in your team’s favor, it’s easy to chalk it up to an obvious accident, the kind of short hop that evens out for everybody over time. I think the umps were right to not call any kind of interference on it, but I also wouldn’t begrudge any D’backs fans being annoyed by it.
Last inning, Escobar got charged with an error on the throw home after Jed Lowrie's double, but Stephen Vogt missed it because Ramon Laureano's helmet fell off and hit him. pic.twitter.com/oygGBqkKqi— Zach Buchanan (@ZHBuchanan) April 13, 2021
And anyway, ball don’t lie. The unlucky error moved the runner (Lowrie) from second to third with nobody out, and he was later stranded there.
Just enough pitching
The pitching staff didn’t quite dominate, but it did enough to win.
Starter Chris Bassitt worked his way into trouble with five walks, but mostly worked his way back out of it without damage thanks to allowing just two hits. The only time Arizona scored against him was really due to the heavy defensive shift — with runners on the corners and one out, the A’s moved their shortstop to the other side of the 2B bag, so when Bassitt induced a routine inning-ending double play grounder to SS, there was nobody there to field it. Run scored, inning continued, sac fly brought in another.
Two runs fully attributable to a nonsensical shift, one that almost completely conceded the chance for a GIDP in a situation where the obvious play was to go for a GIDP. Someone is gonna need to explain the math to me because I’m just not seeing the advantage of this strategy.
Bassitt: 5 ip, 2 runs, 4 Ks, 5 BB, 2 hits, 93 pitches, 77.8 mph EV
“My mechanics have been crap all year,” said Bassitt, after winning a game (per Shayna Rubin of the Mercury News).
It was a similar story in the bullpen. Yusmeiro Petit let a run through, and J.B. Wendelken needed to be bailed out of the 7th after serving up two more. But Jake Diekman and Lou Trivino retired seven of the final eight batters to lock it down.
Still waiting for the A’s first save of the season!
Can we get a DH already?
Breaking news: Pitchers shouldn’t be hitting anymore in 2021.
Chris Bassitt appeared to hurt himself on a check swing but stayed in the game pic.twitter.com/CVPlaxeOl7— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 13, 2021
Chris Bassitt says he felt something in his shoulder when he made that half swing. Added pitchers hitting shouldn’t happen if league wants best product on the field:
“No one wants to watch pitchers hit.”
Fortunately he stayed in the game and completed his start, so hopefully it was nothing and he’s alright. But good grief.
My general philosophical stance on a universal DH is “to each their own,” but at this point there’s no excuse for letting pitchers keep hurting themselves like this other than pure neglect by MLB to take the obvious step of ending the practice. There are already a thousand ways a pitcher can get hurt without adding a few violent trunk twists now and then, and it takes enough practice to be good at pitching without also forcing them to hone another entirely different skill — one that they’ll never be good at, and doesn’t help the team in any significant way, and also will never be factored into their future salary because nobody values it.
I don’t need the universal DH, but I won’t stand for bullshit. Continuing to have pitchers hit in MLB games, which adds unnecessary injury risk without making the game any better and often interrupting the excitement, just because it’s what we’ve always done, is bullshit. We’re here to watch pro sports played by peak athletes at the top of their craft, not novelty gimmicks.
But I mean while we’re here, this part is always fun.
That was Diekman’s first career plate appearance. He struck out, so, now he knows how that feels.
One bit of bummer news from an otherwise excellent game. Olson exited after being hit in the hand by a pitch.
The first baseman has a left thumb contusion and is day-to-day, reports insider Martin Gallegos. He’s not expected to play Tuesday, and then the team is off Wednesday.
Keep it rolling
This is the A’s team we were expecting to see. They aren’t perfect, but they can do a lot of things to beat you and there’s no reason right now why they can’t contend for a postseason spot. The lineup is mashing and Statcast says it’s not a fluke, and the pitching is already coming around after a bad first week against championship-level competition.
The A’s have won four of their last five games after their 0-6 start.
Granted, the A's will have to beat top teams to win a WS, and they did eventually settle in and compete with both LAD and HOU. But in terms of gauging how good they'll be this year, don't underestimate the skewed variable of strength of schedule b/c that opening slate was absurd.— Alex Hall (@AlexHallAN) April 13, 2021