As the Oakland A’s continue their final journey through the AL West, they are proving each game that they’re not the same team that they were in April.
Tonight, Mason Miller exemplified those differences, wielding elite stuff that no other pitcher on the A’s staff has shown all sesaon. That stuff, including a flaming 101 mph heater and a deadly slider, got him three strikeouts in two innings against the hottest lineup in baseball.
Mason Miller’s stuff is NASTY pic.twitter.com/wekgZAvwm2— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 12, 2023
Even players who were on the roster in April have done complete 180s and set themselves up for success in 2024. The performer of the night, Ken Waldichuk, is one of those players having a late-season breakout. Over the entire first half of the season, the rookie southpaw struggled to a 6.63 ERA/6.12 FIP and lost his spot in the rotation multiple times.
He was not that pitcher tonight, one-upping Miller’s strong start with six innings of no-hit ball. That makes it 14 straight innings now without allowing a run. All in all, the two rookie starters combined for six strikeouts and only three baserunners over eight shutout innings. Assuming they’re healthy, the Waldichuk and Miller should be all but guaranteed rotation spots at the start of next season alongside Paul Blackburn and JP Sears.
Though the A’s pitchers faced a tremendous challenge tonight in trying to quiet the Astros offense, Oakland’s lineup weren’t going up against a slouch either. Starting for Houston was ace Framber Valdez, who’s coming off seven innings of one-run ball against the Texas Rangers. He was able to go the same distance against the A’s tonight but they were able to do a bit more damage.
The fun started with an absolute moonshot from All-Star Brent Rooker in the top of the 2nd inning that went over and past the sponsorship signs in center field.
A pair of 2024 shortstop hopefuls in Nick Allen and Kevin Smith also teamed up to get another run across in the 5th. To top it off, Shea Langeliers and Ryan Noda hit a couple of solo shots of their own in the later innings to make it a 4-0 game and get the A’s some insurance. The catcher’s homer was especially nice to see as it not only continued his power streak but it showed that the typically pull-happy hitter could also drive it to the opposite field.
Never without some ninth-inning drama, Trevor May allowed a couple of singles and put the tying run on deck. However, he was able to strike out the other three batters in the inning, close the game out, and secure the nine-inning shutout against one of the most dangerous lineups in the entire league.
The A’s are now 6-4 in September, with seven of those games and five of those wins coming against divisional opponents. With the way the team is progressing and reinforcements on the way, Oakland may have a legitimate shot at making their way up the AL West next season.