By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND–Home runs are up throughout Major League baseball, and the A’s are doing their part in the parade around the bases.
No more so than Sunday when the A’s got a home run from everyone named Matt on their current roster–Chapman, Joyce and Olson–while Kendall Graveman showed he’s healthy by frustrating a potent Orioles offense for seven innings to earn the win.
For the youthful A’s the home runs–they rank sixth in the AL, and 12th amongst all 30 clubs with 163 homers–represent a starting point for the team’s resurgence. The home runs also represent progress in a facet of the game that hasn’t been a strength in recent seasons. The 2017 A’s seem assured of surpassing the 169 home runs hit last year, the most the team has hit in any of the last four seasons. They also have an opportunity to surpass the 2013 A’s, who hit 186 bombs led by Brandon Moss (30), Yoenis Cespedes (26), and Josh Donaldson (24).
Of course, home runs aren’t everything. The A’s are a last place club in large part due to their team batting average (.240, tied for last in the AL), paucity of hits (950, 14th in the AL), and awful defense (MLB-worst 96 errors). But the home runs–the majority of which have been hit by the team’s young core led by Khris Davis–suggest a path to overall team improvement in 2018 and beyond.
Baltimore’s dominant closer Zach Britton wouldn’t disagree after Olson turned on his fastball inside and deposited it beyond the right field wall. It marked the first time Britton had allowed a home run to a left-handed hitter in more than four seasons. Britton’s look of disbelief said it all, as did Olson’s look of “I belong” circling the bases.
“I don’t even know what to say about the home run off Britton,” manager Bob Melvin said. “For a lefty to do that?”
“They’ve been throwing me inside a decent amount, especially the lefties, so I took a pitch and sat on an inside pitch and I got it,” Olson said.
Matt Chapman belonged too.
Chapman provided the go-ahead three-run homer in the fourth, the capper in a five-run rally that put the A’s up 5-2, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
When the A’s added another run in the fifth, O’s starter Jeremy Hellickson was finished, having thrown a season-low 65 pitches. Hellickson wasn’t awful, but five hits, two walks and Chapman’s home run were too much on Sunday.
“Just one of those days,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “We knew Graveman — once he got his feet on the ground — he’s solid. Both pitchers were using the benefit of a couple inches off the plate. There were a lot of strikes called today that weren’t strikes, but both pitchers benefited from it.”