They’re still the Oakland A’s for now, but perhaps a better name is Best Team In The American League.
With their 4-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, the A’s now stand at 23-15, the most wins in the league. The Chicago White Sox have a slightly higher percentage but have played fewer games.
The story tonight revolved around James Kaprielian. The top prospect made his MLB debut last summer but now was set to make his first start in the majors, with the daunting task of facing the first-place Red Sox in Fenway Park. Despite some early jitters, he came through.
The 1st inning featured some “Fenway nerves” for Kaprielian, as he loaded the bases and then walked in a run. But he escaped without further damage, and Boston never crossed the plate for the rest of the evening.
From there the right-hander settled down, retiring 10 of his next 12 batters through the end of the 4th. The 5th began with a close Ball 4 call, and then Kaprielian got a comebacker grounder with a chance to turn a double play but threw it into center field for an error. He recovered to retire the next three batters in order — including another comebacker that he got right, visibly learning from his previous mistake and flipping the ball to the plate to nab the runner.
- Kaprielian: 5 ip, 1 run, 6 Ks, 3 BB, 4 hits, 95 pitches, 91.8 mph
What more could you ask for in his debut start? It wasn’t perfect, with the early wildness and harder contact than you’d like. But he missed a ton of bats (15 swinging strikes), and for a few innings he cruised.
The escape job in the 5th was especially impressive, one of those moments where showing he could overcome the adversity was almost more encouraging than posting another 1-2-3 frame in the sense of seeing a rookie get fully tested in the majors. Not every inning will go in order, and now there’s a data point of Kaprielian working out a jam unscathed against some star hitters.
Kaprielian’s father, Doug, was in the stands loving every minute of it.
Doug Kaprielian is punching 'em out for his son pic.twitter.com/XwSidniRgT— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) May 13, 2021
“My dad is the rock of the family,” Kaprielian said of having his father at his first MLB start. “He gets pretty amped up, as I’m sure you were able to see tonight, but it was very special have him there for the first one and I know my mom was there with me today as well.”
The A’s began the year with quite a collection of top prospect starters in Triple-A, and the first one has now arrived in the majors with a positive first impression.
Variety of scoring
Four runs were enough for the A’s tonight, and while that’s not a lofty number, it was promising to see the variety of methods they used to score.
In the 2nd inning, it was a traditional rally with a string of hits. Matt Chapman doubled but got thrown out going for third, then Stephen Piscotty singled, and Sean Murphy doubled in Piscotty.
That run tied it up after Kaprielian’s rough 1st inning, and then Oakland took the lead in the 5th.
This time they switched to more of a small-ball approach. Mitch Moreland singled and Elvis Andrus doubled to set the scene (click for video), but there wasn’t another hit in the inning. Instead, Jed Lowrie pushed a run home with a simple RBI groundout, which also moved Andrus up to third.
Then Andrus flat-out created a run out of thin air. He danced around on the 3B line until he drew a balk from the pitcher, and then trotted home. On the next pitch, the batter lined out to end the inning.
Finally, in the 6th, it was Dinger Time, courtesy of Matt Olson.
Hitting with runners in scoring position, productive outs, mayhem on the bases, and slugging. That’s the complete package on offense.
The A’s asked their bullpen for four innings tonight, and fortunately Burch Smith is back in action.
After spending April on the injured list, Smith has picked up where he left off in his brief 2020 breakout. It only took him 23 pitches to retire six batters in a row, which is the second time he’s done exactly that since being activated — on Sunday against the Rays, he also went six-up-six-down on 23 pitches. Add up those pitch counts and you’ve his jersey number, 46. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but Smith is back and he’s spectacular.
The 8th went to Lou Trivino, and he found himself in trouble with runners on second and third with just one out. But then the defense came through, especially two-time Gold Glove winner Olson. Trivino induced a routine play to second base, resulting in an out at first, but the runner from third made a late decision to run home and Olson alertly whipped a throw to the plate to nab him.
It should have been a run outright just as an RBI groundout, same as Lowrie had done earlier for the A’s. And it still could have been a run, without that great play from Olson. Instead it was an inning-ending double play.
The 9th went to Jake Diekman, and he retired the side in order, including two strikeouts.
Ride the wave
Of course it’s presumptuous to label anyone the Best Team in the AL, especially just based on a mid-May win total, but don’t let that stop us from having some fun. It’s mathematically true that the A’s lead the league in victories, and that they just went into the house of a fellow division-leader and took the first two games. Regardless of whether they complete the sweep tomorrow, they’ve made yet another statement here this week as their weird slow start to the season fades farther into the rear-view mirror.