The first half of the 2021 Bay Bridge Series is in the books, and it didn’t quite go the way Oakland A’s fans hoped it would.
The A’s avoided being swept in the finale on Sunday, but they still lost two of the three games. And both defeats came in excruciating fashion, with the first by way of shutout, and the second a seesaw affair in which Oakland took a lead in the 10th inning but blew it anyway for San Francisco’s first walk-off of the summer. Blergh.
- Game #78: A’s shut out by Giants despite Sean Manaea’s brilliance
- Game #79: A’s take lead three times but can’t finish off Giants in 10th inning
- Game #80: A’s avoid Bay Bridge Series sweep behind Cole Irvin gem
But the thing about close losses is that you have do some good things along the way in order to keep them close. The A’s left Oracle Park with a 1-2 record, but they did win the run differential battle with an 11-10 margin, and when the opposite is true it’s always used as a criticism so it must now count as at least some consolation. Furthermore, some individual players really stepped up. Here are three bright sides amid the series loss.
Starting rotation was great
While the games didn’t always finish the way Oakland wanted, they tended to start well on the pitching side. The rotation delivered three strong starts, ranging from good enough to absolute gem, each time more than keeping the team in the game.
- Starters: 19 ip, 3 runs, 20 Ks, 8 BB, 1 HBP, 1 HR, 8 hits
In the opener, Sean Manaea fired six brilliant innings with just one bloop run allowed. Frankie Montas only completed five frames but kept the scoring to two runs. And then Cole Irvin dominated for eight scoreless in the finale
Not only did the rotation do all of that on the road against an opponent with the best record in MLB and who ranks Top 5 in scoring in the majors, they didn’t even need staff ace Chris Bassitt to help out. This was the Nos. 2, 3, and 4 starters, unless one of them is actually No. 5 in the group behind hot rookie James Kaprielian.
The A’s rotation is settling in as one of the strengths of the team, a change from 2018 when the bullpen and lineup carried the way to the first postseason appearance. The starters only rank 10th in the majors in ERA, FIP, and fWAR, and they only gain a couple spots if you remove the brief struggles of Jesús Luzardo and Mike Fiers. But on an individual level everybody has a better-than-average ERA except Montas, and everybody is beating league FIP except Kaprielian. And everybody is giving the club a good enough effort to win most days, while pitching deeper into games than any other unit in MLB.
As a bonus, the starters also got to show off their prowess with the bat last weekend. Irvin laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to drive home a run, and Manaea went 2-for-2 with a double and a single.
Manaea making it look too easy pic.twitter.com/gQHHm5Nnkl— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) June 26, 2021
Putting the ATHLETE in Oakland Athletics.
Chaptain America emerges
It’s been a tough season for Matt Chapman, which isn’t completely unexpected after the major hip surgery he had last year. His batting line is barely above average and his strikeout rate is up in the danger zone over 30%, and that slump was visible on Friday when he fanned three times including once on a pitch a foot above the zone with two runners on and one out.
But on Saturday, Chaptain America returned. At the plate he drove in the go-ahead run twice, first with a tiebreaking homer in the 7th inning, and then with a sac fly in the top of the 10th to plate the bonus runner, all while laying off several of the high fastballs that have given him trouble this summer. In the field, he relayed a throw home from LF to nab the potential walk-off run in the bottom of the 9th to force extras.
Oakland still lost in the end, but not for any lack of effort or production by Chapman. If they’d held on in the bottom of the 10th then he would have been hailed as the hero of the evening on both sides of the ball and the headlines would have been about whether he’s back.
The next day he kept on rolling. In the 1st inning he came to bat with a pair of runners in scoring position and lined a single to drive them both home. That early lead stuck for the rest of the evening, especially after he also helped add insurance in the 7th when he led off the inning with a single and came around to score.
Overall, an excellent weekend for the third baseman.
- Chapman: 4-for-12, HR, 5 RBI, 2 runs, 1 BB, 3 Ks, and a literal DRS
The A’s have put themselves in good position midway through the season without a consistent Star Chapman, so some more performances like this would go a long way toward a prosperous second half in Oakland.
Kemp keeps hustling
It was only a week ago that we discussed how Kempin ain’t easy, but everyday Tony Kemp is hustling so we need to talk about him again.
After playing mostly second base since coming to the A’s last year, Kemp is helping out in left field this year and he’s already shown that his versatility extends to outfield competence. You can even see the little fundamentals, like promptly throwing to the correct base to hold the lead runner at second with one out in a 1-0 game.
The next night, with the score again 1-0, he made a nice running catch near the wall to prevent extra-bases. And later on Saturday, in the 9th inning, he started the relay with Chapman that eliminated the walk-off run at the plate.
But then on Sunday he was right back in the infield, making plays at 2B.
Tony Kemp is a playmaker pic.twitter.com/oRI0EAnjHe— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) June 27, 2021
At the plate he went hitless but still managed to reach four times in 13 trips, salvaging a .308 OBP. And once on base he caused havoc, in particular by racing home on Irvin’s squeeze bunt.
Perfect squeeze by Cole Irvin and Tony Kemp pic.twitter.com/IyfPR3GTRK— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) June 27, 2021
Even when he didn’t score his presence still made an impact. In the 7th inning Sunday, after Chapman led off with a single, it was a Kemp walk that pushed him to second ahead of an RBI single by another teammate. Without Kemp’s productive non-out, nobody crosses the plate.
Bonus! Backup catchers take spotlight!
This isn’t really a bright side, so much as a neat extra bonus highlight from the series. It was a good weekend to be a backup catcher.
Unfortunately it cut both ways. The Giants were without primary backstop Buster Posey for a couple days, so they turned to Curt Casali to start the first two games. On Friday he homered in a 2-0 victory for San Francisco, and on Saturday he drove in the walk-off run in the 10th.
On Sunday it was the A’s turn. Sean Murphy got the afternoon off, and former Giants prospect Aramis Garcia took his place. Garcia came to bat four times against his old team, and twice he knocked RBI singles, in the 6th and 7th innings. Technically his first RBI proved to be the difference in the game, as it was Oakland’s third run in a 6-2 triumph.
Aramis Garcia drives in a run against his former team pic.twitter.com/BmrIoSiMH6— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) June 27, 2021
And after his second hit, he later hustled home to score on a sac fly.
Casali and Garcia haven’t put up big offensive numbers this year, but they both unleashed in this series when given the opportunity.
A series loss is always a bummer, and it would have been way cooler to have won at least one more of these games. But if you’re looking for long-term signs of optimism, it sure was nice to see the rotation continue slamming zeroes, and the scuffling star look like his old prime self, and the hustling breakout player keep contributing. And if beating the A’s means hoping your backup catcher gets hot at the right moment, then good luck, especially if Oakland can upgrade their bullpen over the next month before the trade deadline.
It was a frustrating weekend, but not a disastrous one. And there’s a rematch at the Coliseum in August.