The Oakland A’s just got humbled by the Houston Astros this week, but one-quarter of the way through the 2021 season they were still yet to play their other three rivals in the AL West division.
That changed Friday, as the A’s opened a series against the Los Angeles Angels and came away with an 8-4 victory. Oakland hit four homers along the way, and won by a comfortable margin despite having two more runners thrown out at home plate and another at third base.
The A’s got contributions from all over their roster tonight, but a couple of stars particularly stood out. James Kaprielian pitched into the 6th inning and recorded nine strikeouts in his second career MLB start, second baseman Chad Pinder hit a three-run homer and made a nice catch, and center fielder Ramon Laureano robbed a game-tying homer and then later hit one of his own.
On the mound, Kaprielian was able to avoid trouble against an Angels lineup that’s missing injured superstar Mike Trout. Both runs he allowed came on solo homers, and otherwise the Halos never even got to third base against him, and only once found second base. After a shaky but scoreless 1st inning, the two dingers were the only hard-hit balls off him the rest of the way.
- Kaprielian: 5⅔ ip, 2 runs, 9 Ks, 1 BB, 2 HR, 4 hits, 99 pitches, 91.8 mph EV
The right-hander eventually finished one out shy of a technical quality start, but that’s an arbitrary measure here — he was good, and he put his team in a position to win, which they ultimately did even though he took a no-decision. Striking out 41% of your batters is a great way to keep your opponent off the bases, and the outing earned an excellent .279 xwOBA from Statcast.
In terms of velocity, Kaprielian averaged 93.3 mph on his fastball but cranked it up toward 95 on several occasions. He was able to generate both whiffs and called strikes using his four-seamer and slider, and the Angels couldn’t find the barrel of the bat against any of his breaking or offspeed stuff.
Meanwhile, the A’s offense got started supporting their pitcher in the 3rd inning, the same way it had the previous day against the Astros — a solo homer by Mark Canha.
The Halos immediately tied it in the bottom of the inning with a dinger of their own, and the score stayed that way until the 6th.
That continued stalemate was especially frustrating because of a couple missed opportunities along the way. In the 1st inning, Matt Chapman made an aggressive attempt to advance from second to third on a pitch in the dirt, but it didn’t bounce far enough away from the catcher and Chapman was thrown out. This was a bit of a TOOTBLAN, considering that the direction the ball got away from the catcher was directly at the base he was trying to take.
In the 3rd, after Canha’s homer, Oakland nearly scored again. Laureano walked, and Matt Olson replaced him on first base due to a fielder’s choice. Pinder then laced a double into the right-center gap, but RF Jose Rojas made an excellent play to cut it off in front of the wall and then got the ball in quickly. If it had been Laureano running he would have scored easily, but Olson wasn’t fast enough and the relay throw got him. Sending Olson was ambitious, but more in the spirit of worthwhile hustle that forces the opponent to make big plays.
Finally, in the 6th, the A’s made their way around all four bases safely. Sean Murphy came up with the bags loaded and drilled a double to the wall in center, bringing home two runners — Laureano and Pinder, naturally. At 109.8 mph exit velocity, Murphy was just a couple degrees of launch angle away from seeing this clear the fence for a grand slam.
Unfortunately, the lead once against didn’t last. Kaprielian got the first two outs in the bottom of the 6th but then served up his second solo homer and was yanked. Reliever Yusmeiro Petit followed with a rare hiccup in an uncharacteristically easy assignment with the bases empty, allowing a weak infield single, then a weak shift-busting double, and then a blast for a two-run triple. Lead blown.
Defense and dingers
Entering the 7th, the A’s were down 4-3 and they didn’t have much time to catch up. Fortunately, comebacks against bullpens are their specialty.
The inning began with familiar frustration, as the Angels defense givethed and then takethed away. Canha led off with a routine grounder that was thrown away for a two-base error, and Laureano singled to right. Once again it was Rojas fielding the hit, and once again Oakland tested him, this time by sending Canha. Once again it went wrong, as Rojas let fly an absolutely perfect throw to get the out at the plate. Running was the right decision, but when you force the other team to make a play sometimes they do make it.
No matter though. Olson walked, and then Pinder launched a three-run homer. Even Rojas couldn’t throw anyone out on that 400-foot jack.
The trend to that point had been that whenever the A’s scored, the Angels answered back right away. It almost happened again in the 7th.
After Pinder’s fireworks, the Halos got a runner on base against reliever Jake Diekman, and Anthony Rendon lifted a towering drive to the left of center. It appeared Oakland had blown the save for the second time in the game, but instead the Laser fired up and streaked toward the wall. Laureano timed a perfect leap and made the catch, pulling back a sure game-tying homer.
Laureano, the human highlight reel pic.twitter.com/nh4yRfMgWl— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) May 22, 2021
It was uncannily similar to a play Laureano made two weeks ago against the Orioles, robbing a potential go-ahead knock in the late innings. History then continued to repeat itself — that day against Baltimore he followed up his catch with a homer, and right on cue tonight went deep to lead off the 9th.
Lazor Ramon solo shot. Number 11 on the year. pic.twitter.com/wEOUz1ZENj— Justin Groc (@jgroc) May 22, 2021
Ramon’s 11 homers lead the team, and he’s tied for 11th in all of MLB. A few batters later, Jed Lowrie added another 421-foot long ball, whose main effect was pushing the lead to four such that Lou Trivino didn’t get a save for his scoreless bottom of the 9th. Petit was awarded his sixth win of the year.
Bring on the AL West
That’s more like it. Just as the A’s were overpowered by the Astros the last few days, Oakland passed that favor on to the Angels tonight. They banged out 13 hits, eight of them for extra-bases, and added six walks. They hit for abundant power and delivered triple-digit exit velocities 17 times, and also made timely contact going 4-for-11 with runners in scoring position. They hustled on the bases, and they made multiple highlights on defense. The rookie starter was strong, and the bullpen stumbled but held on in the end.
And just like that, Oakland is back in first place in the AL West.