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Game #5: A’s lose again, but A.J. Puk has good debut

Just an awful game all around, with one big bright side

Los Angeles Dodgers v Oakland Athletics Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

What can you really say at this point?

The Oakland A’s played their fifth game of the 2021 season on Monday, and for the fifth time they got torn apart. They didn’t just lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers, they got trounced in every area in a 10-3 game that was over by the 3rd inning.

*** Game Thread #1 | Game Thread #2 ***

On the mound, Frankie Montas made his season debut, and he didn’t get out of the 3rd inning. On top of lots of hard contact and free passes and general wildness, the defense behind him didn’t help either. In the 2nd inning he might have escaped with only one run in, but third baseman Matt Chapman botched a fairly routine (for him) grounder with two outs, extending the inning long enough to allow the next batter to drill a three-run double.

In the 3rd Montas allowed a homer, which hit the foul pole just a few feet above the 330 sign in the LF corner, registering on Statcast as 352 feet at a line-drive launch angle. That’s basically a double that accidentally went over the wall. But either way it was extremely hard contact, and four of the next five batters reached base anyway, so the bad hop hardly mattered.

Montas: 2⅔ ip, 7 runs, 4 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HBP, 1 HR, 7 hits, wild pitch

That stat line is like a sampler platter of everything that can go wrong for a pitcher. He also threw 90 pitches, and per official scorer David Feldman that’s “the most by an Athletics pitcher in an outing of less then 3 innings since pitch counts became reliable in 1988”.

Even the little things went wrong. Outfielders throwing to the wrong base. Gold Glovers flubbing automatic plays. Almost getting out of a jam only to have it go wrong at the last moment. The clip below is a good representation of the game overall.

Out of the bullpen, Adam Kolarek got BABIP’d by grounders once again for a run (lowering his ERA to 22.50), and Sergio Romo allowed a solo homer.

But wait. Here’s the worst part. You know how sometimes fans complain that the umpire hurt their team with poor or inconsistent calls? Just last week A’s fans were unhappy with Brian Gorman behind the plate. Well, Gorman was calling balls and strikes tonight too, and this time he made up for Opening Day.

In the image below, A’s pitchers are on the left, Dodgers on the right. Orange dots are called strikes.

Baseball Savant

Oakland’s pitchers got an extra few inches on both sides of the plate, and the whole top section of the zone that Los Angeles didn’t get. Maybe a dozen extra strike calls. And the extra help still didn’t matter.

On the bright side, maybe some of those calls were earned after all? Here’s Sean Murphy framing an obvious ball and getting the strike.

If Murphy somehow stole all those extra calls via framing alone, then that will turn this “bad news” into quite an exciting development.

But at the end of the day, there’s no escaping a particularly dubious distinction. The 2021 A’s are now the third team in MLB history to allow eight or more runs in each of their five games of a season, joining the 1974 Padres and 1995 White Sox. Both of those previous clubs finished with losing records, including 102 losses for the ‘74 San Diego squad.

In one final twist, struggling reliever Reymin Guduan got hurt. The lefty entered to mop up the 9th inning, for the third time in five days, and allowed hits to three of his first five batters to drive in a run. However, that final hit was of the infield variety, and he collided with the runner at first base, landing awkwardly and appearing to injure his hand. He exited the game and J.B. Wendelken had to get the final out of a seven-run rout.

Even down to the final batters, stuff went wrong. The A’s have already incurred four injuries in the first five games of the season, though one of them (catcher Sean Murphy) returned to the lineup tonight after missing three days.

Almost shut out

The lineup didn’t do much better than the pitching staff. They were shut out by starter Dustin May for six innings, including whiffing on a couple early rally opportunities. Then Los Angeles brought in their mopup man, former Cy Young winner David Price.

The A’s finally got on the scoreboard against Price in the 8th. Mark Canha, one of the only bats that’s locked in so far, blasted a homer, just the second of the year for the whole team.

Chapman later doinked a single to knock in a run, and then rookie outfielder Ka’ai Tom notched his first career hit and RBI.

It was enough to add a couple of positive footnotes to the recap, but too little too late in terms of getting back into the game.

Puk debuts

Fortunately, there was one legitimate bright side tonight. Top pitching prospect A.J. Puk made his season debut, and his first MLB appearance since 2019 after missing last summer to injury, and he was wonderful.

The tall lefty entered in a two-out jam in the 3rd inning and struck out his first batter to escape it. Then he stuck around for three more scoreless innings, working around three walks and a single. He struck out four of his 14 batters along the way, and dialed his velocity as high as 95.6 mph with several 95s, which is still below his norm but an improvement over the spring.

Puk: 3⅓ ip, 0 runs, 4 Ks, 3 BB, 1 hit, 65 pitches

After watching basically the entire pitching staff get annihilated for five straight days, it’s nice to see the top prospect come up and look as good as he’s supposed to. A new hope!

For some context, five MLB games out of 162 is the same percentage of the season as being a few seconds before halftime of the first game of an NFL season. Yes the losses count in the standings, and yes it’s been terrible with only tiny silver linings, and yes some developments are worrisome, but it can’t be stressed enough how early we still are. And that the A’s two opponents combined to take five of the last eight World Series spots.

Tomorrow is another day. It’s felt so far like the A’s are still at spring training while everyone else began the season last week, but at some point they’ll get going. Hopefully it’s soon enough.