And just like that, the Oakland A’s are already back at the .500 mark.
After opening their 2021 season with six straight losses, it didn’t even take another two weeks for the A’s to erase their slow start from the standings. They finished flipping the script Friday night with their sixth straight win, a 3-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers, making them just the third team in MLB history ever to have streaks of six wins and six losses within their first 14 games of a year.
The story begins and ends with pitching. Even as the team has gotten back in the win column lately, the pitching staff has still endured some shaky outings that were fortunately overshadowed by explosions from the lineup. On this night they tossed their first shutout, only the fourth time they’ve limited the opponent to fewer than four runs.
Leading the way was starter Frankie Montas, authoring his second quality start in a row after a forgettable debut during the Dark Times of the club’s 0-6 start. In six sparkling innings he allowed only four pieces of hard contact, only two of those deserved to be hits, and only one actually did fall for a single. Otherwise the rebuilding Tigers managed only two other baserunners off the right-hander, on a lucky infield single and a walk.
Montas: 6 ip, 0 runs, 7 Ks, 1 BB, 2 hits, 100 pitches, 84.7 mph EV
His season ERA has now dropped from 23.63 to 8.31 to its current 4.91, and his FIP is down under 4.00. His 99th pitch of the evening clocked a powerful 96 mph, after topping out at nearly 98 earlier.
Filthy Frankie— Oakland A's (@Athletics) April 17, 2021
6IP, 2H, 0R, 1BB, 7K pic.twitter.com/GxRkfeZpeY
The bullpen took it from there, finally giving us our first real look at a customary 7-8-9 setup/closer arrangement. Yusmeiro Petit worked the 7th, Jake Diekman took the 8th, and Lou Trivino sealed the 9th for his second save, facing just one batter over the minimum over those three frames. Detroit hit a comebacker off Petit for a lucky infield single that would have otherwise been a routine groundout, and Trivino allowed a single but then eliminated it in a double play.
That highlights one development to notice about Trivino, who appears to be settling in as the potential new closer. Among the things he’s doing well this year is keeping the ball on the ground far more than he ever has before, and it’s already been apparent as he’s induced GIDP balls in each of his saves so far. Big difference between letting an early runner on base but then getting a grounder, as opposed to serving up another liner to exacerbate the situation and build a rally.
It’s just one game against last-place competition, but it’s a step in the right direction. Everybody who pitched for Oakland in this game is supposed to be good. Sometimes you just need to sink that first layup and see it go through the hoop to shake off the slump and get back on track.
Just enough hitting
It didn’t take much to support the pitching staff in this game, and the lineup got the job done.
Most of the action came in the 4th inning. DH Mitch Moreland, back in the lineup after missing five starts to a hamstring issue, came up with two runners on and singled one in. It was one of two occasions that he hit the ball directly into a heavy defensive shift and got a hit anyway because extreme shifts are silly and make no sense.
Next up after Moreland was Sean Murphy, who doubled down the 3B line to drive home another run.
That was all until the 8th, when Matt Chapman went deep for a solo homer to add some insurance.
Of note, when Chapman tripled in Arizona on Tuesday, I pointed out that the ball he hit would have left the yard in Oakland, where the straightaway CF fence is seven feet closer. Tonight’s dinger was basically the same piece of contact, and in fact despite being hit slightly harder it was a couple degrees lower in launch angle and so was projected to land 17 feet shorter than the Tuesday triple was. But in Arizona it bounced off the wall, and at the Coliseum it cleared it, and that’s a real-world illustration of park effects.
Oh, and the sun came up today, and Jed Lowrie is currently on the A’s, which means he hit a double. It probably should have been a homer, but the wind kept it barely in the park high up the jagged edge in right-center. He was later stranded so nothing came of it, but rest easy knowing it happened, as usual like clockwork. He could have had another hit but his sharp liner was right at a glove.
If you’re not yet convinced that this was an impressive shutout victory, or you’re writing it off because the Tigers aren’t very good, then consider one more obstacle the A’s had to overcome. They drew umpire Angel Hernandez calling balls and strikes behind home plate, and his reputation as the worst in the business was on full display.
In the image below, Detroit pitchers are on the left, and Oakland pitchers are on the right. Orange dots are Called Strikes, blue dots are Balls, and everything else is contact of some sort.
The A’s got all of home plate, but the Tigers got the full dining room table, and the green-and-gold still won in a shutout.
Here’s what those pitches looked like in real life.
The A's went down in order in the bottom of the first. Also, Angel Hernandez is behind home plate tonight. pic.twitter.com/S17D1R1ap5— Jacob Rudner (@Jacob_Rudner) April 17, 2021
Mark Canha got Angel Hernandezed again. Canha is 0-2 with two looking strikeouts on pitches that weren't strikes.— Jacob Rudner (@Jacob_Rudner) April 17, 2021
Definitely a strong strike three motion from Angel, though. pic.twitter.com/o5c7TGDz7L
The box score says Mark Canha struck out three times, but, nah. Most of the batters in the game did not have those pitches called on them, so Canha was correct to take them — even the second time, after seeing that area not continue to get called after his own first at-bat.
All that said, Montas did get everything he needed from Hernandez, including the entirety of the upper corners where he can dominate with heat. He just didn’t get extra help outside the zone, which he didn’t end up needing.
Hernandez also had a cool moment. When Ramon Laureano was shaken up after a foul ball, Hernandez went to extra lengths to stall a few moments so Laureano could recover and refocus, to the point of leaning over the plate as if to clean it but instead just standing there chatting a while longer. There’s nothing in the rules that says the ump has to do that, it was just a nice thing for a human to do for a co-worker, and it makes the game better. Thanks Angel!
Season starts tomorrow
At the end of spring training, we were all excited about the A’s. Then the season started, yadda yadda yadda, they’re .500 and playing great and we’re all excited about them.
Some stuff happened in between during those yaddas, but nothing that changed the long-term outlook of the 2021 team. They’re still the same contender we expected on Opening Day, with lots of strengths and a few glaring question marks, carrying no guarantee of reaching October but plenty of optimism and tons of upside.
Their record is basically reset back to zero, with a 148-game season ahead of them. Nobody ran away with the AL West division in the meantime, with three games separating the whole group and an obvious fluke (Mariners) at the top. In fact, even after all this, the A’s are a half-game ahead of the Houston Astros, and within 1.5 of an Angels squad they haven’t even faced yet.
Add it all up, and you might as well take a mulligan for the first 14 games, the bad and the good. Start over from scratch on Saturday, with the slate wiped clean in the standings and the club popping. Opening Day, Take Two.
Ray Fosse spending an entire inning scolding Glen and Dallas for not sharing their eclairs with him is my favorite part of the A's season so far, even above the ongoing 6-game winning streak. Had me laughing out loud. Just perfection.— Alex Hall (@AlexHallAN) April 17, 2021