It’s opposite day in Oakland today. Contrary to all pre-season predictions, Oakland’s pitching was dominant, yielding only 2 earned runs (the latter of which was pretty borderline), while our offense was stagnant and failed to get anything going until the 9th inning. We squeezed the teAse in, but it was not enough to keep the game going and the A’s fell 2-1.
Sean Manaea’s peformance was absolutely masterful, genuinely perhaps the best he has pitched in his two years in the major leagues. Despite his fastball sitting in the low 90’s, he was able to utilize his offspeed pitches to keep Angels batters off-balance and play up the speed of his heater. Manaea’s fastball, changeup, and slider were all effective, getting him through 7 2⁄3 innings with 7 strikeouts, 4 hits, and perhaps most impressively, 0 walks. I’ve voiced concern on multiple occasions about Manaea’s velocity not being as high as advertised in the minor leagues, and my confusion persists. But if he can continue to mix his pitches as effectively as he did tonight, he will truly live up to his reputation as a potential #2, or maybe even #1 pitcher.
The only damage against Manaea was of the Trout nature. Typical. In the second at-bat of the game, Trout lasered a changeup over the fence in left field to give the Angels a very early 1-0 lead that they would hold for pretty much the entire game. It wasn’t even a particularly bad pitch - it caught a little too much of the plate, yes, but it was down at the knees and would not result in a home run 99 times out of 100. But this is Mike Trout.
Meanwhile, the Oakland offense was utterly shut down by Angels lefty Tyler Skaggs. Unfortunately, we don’t happen to have a Mike Trout to bail us out. A’s hitters were consistently perplexed by Skaggs’s curveball. He opened at-bats with it again and again, and he missed the strike zone again and again, and A’s hitters swung and missed again and again. And each time after falling behind in the count, batters would be forced to swing at consistently worse pitches until it was hopeless. Oakland managed only 3 hits against Skaggs in 6 1⁄3 innings.
The A’s fared similarly against Blake Wood and Keynan Middleton, both of whom we faced yesterday. We had scoring opportunities against both again today. In the 7th, Lucroy committed a rally-killing TOOTBLAN with runners on first and second, inexplicably getting picked off miles from the bag despite having nowhere to go. The 8th was a more traditional squandering - Matt Joyce pinch hit for Chad Pinder and led off with double off the left field wall. With the wind in our sails, Semien struck out, then Boog Powell and Jed Lowrie both failed to get Joyce home. Joyce somehow managed to hurt his foot running to third base, which immediately hurt all of us in the top of the 9th when he hesitated on a catchable line drive, resulting in what was a single/E-7 but was potentially an out for a good left fielder. So what could have been a run for us and none for them is the opposite. 2-0 Angels.
The A’s got one more chance in the bottom of the 9th. With Blake Parker pitching for the Angels (lots of Blakes over there), Khris Davis led off with a walk and then Matt Olson powered a single through the right side of the infield. Parker looked off-balance and was struggling to throw strikes. What’s the logical approach in that situation? Hack like there’s no tomorrow, of course. Piscotty struck out on a pitch 5 feet in front of the plate, then Chapman struck out on 3 pitches. Both have looked horrible at the plate so far, though it’s only been 2 games so let’s not jump to conclusions. Lucroy redeemed himself from his earlier TOOTBLAN with a long single to right center field to at least get Oakland on the board with 1 run. But that’s it. Joyce couldn’t manage to duplicate Lucroy’s redemption and instead grounded out. A’s lose 2-1.
In a way, this type of loss is comforting. I am confident in our offense’s ability long-term to score runs and to hit solo dingers, the kind of thing which would have remedied this game. I am less sure about our pitching. But seeing Manaea look like a true ace on the mound bodes well for this team’s future, in spite of our batters crumbling tonight in the face of breaking balls. This is the type of performance Manaea, as well as the rest of this young pitching staff, can build on.