Photo credit: @Athletics
By Lewis Rubman
Los Angeles (AL): 5 | 8 | 2
Oakland: 7 | 6 | 0
The A’s recent 4-3 whirlwind trip to Kansas City and New York was successful, but only if you define success as the avoidance of a major disaster. The team is by no means out of the running for the postseason, but the outlook is, if not bleak, cloudy. Fangraphs estimates the A’s chances of reaching the wild card play-in game at 44.5%, and the same source gives them the same chance of winning that game.
That’s encouraging, but it doesn’t solve Oakland’s problems, the most glaring of which is their unreliable bullpen. Joakim Soria frequently can be counted on to yield a run an inning, which should disqualify him as candidate to enter close games in late innings. Yusmeiro Petit is having a pretty good season, but when he doesn’t have it, he’s subject to melt downs. Blake Treinen has done more than just revert to the norm after last year’s magnificent run of saves; he seems—I take no pleasure in saying this—a liability. Meanwhile, Lou Trivino keeps tantalizing A’s fans with the hope that he’s finally turned the corner and is escaping his dream turned nightmare.
This leads to the paradox that the role of the A’s starter is both more and less significant than it normally would be. He needs to pitch deep in the game, but, however well he does, it could all be wiped out if he doesn’t get the offensive and relief support he needs. The A’s lineup frequently provides the former, and, until this past weekend, Liam Hendriks was a regular source of the latter, as were the middle relievers and set up men when they were on their A or even B+ game.
Sean Manea’s return—and it was an unqualified success—enabled Oakland to push Mike Fiers’ next start back a game, thereby giving their ace, tonight’starter at the Coliseum, a day’s rest more than his regular turn and the day off after New York would otherwise have provided. Rhythms being as important as they are to the pitchers’ craft, added rest doesn’t always help them when they get back to business, but those respites usually pay off over time, especially when the race to make the playoffs becomes pressing.
Fiers was by no means dominating in tonight’s contest. He left after five innings of work, in which he gave up four runs, all of them earned, on seven hits, two of which were home runs, and two walks. He struck out two and threw 83 pitches, 51 of which were strikes.
The A’s have taken other steps to bolster their chances of success. Seth Brown already has contributed both offensively and defensively, and the injury-prone Sean Murphy is a fairly sure bet to do so as well, especially if he can stay healthy. Right-handed starter Paul Blackburn is up from Vegas, where he went 11-3, 4.34 ERA (.327 in his last 11 games) in what decidedly is not a pitcher friendly league or home ball park. Susan Slusser has reported that he’s expected to be used in long relief. We’re still waiting for the return of Ramón Laureano and Jesús Luzardo, not to mention the homecoming (on the road) of suspended Frankie Montás for the six last games of the regular season. He could give the team one start, several relief innings, or a combination both activities.
But enough about the A’s. The Angels sent Jaime Barría, who at 4-7, 6.10 ERA, had gotten into the sixth inning only once in his 11 starts for the Halos this season, to the mound. The right hander had a horrendous ERA of 9.68 over 48 1/3 innings in Salt Lake this season, but managed to strike out 44 batters while with the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Tonight, he lasted four frames, in which he surrendered five runs, four of the earned, on five hits and two walks. He struck out five, and 44 of his 74 pitches were strikes.
Mike Trout greeted Fiers rudely with a one out home run to left on the fifth pitch of the game. It came off an 87 mph fast ball. The pitch’s velocity put to rest the suspicion that Fiers might be over rested. But he settled down to strike out two-way Shohei Ohtani and soon to be Cooperstown bound Albert Pujols to fly out to medium deep center.
The Angels scored again against Fiers in the top of the second. Justin Upton followed a four pitch walk to Kole Calhoun with a single to left. Andrelton Simmons also singled to left, scoring Calhoun. Upton tried to advance to third on Simmons’ single, but Seth Brown cut him down with a bullet of a throw to Matt Chapman. In spite of a steal of second by Simmons, Fiers escaped further damage by fanning Luis Rengifo and retiring ex A’s farmhand Max Stassi, who hit a soft liner to Profar at second. Oakland was down, 2-0 after one and a half innings of play.
Matt Olson doubled to center to lead off the Oakland second. He held his base when Mark Canha grounded out to short but scored on Brown’s ringing triple to right. Khris Davis hit a bouncer to Simmons at short, and it looked like he might try to throw Brown out at home. But he changed his mind at the last moment and threw to first, giving KD an RBI and the A’s a temporary tie.
In their half of the third, the A’s got two men in scoring position and Simmons two errors when, with Semien on first with a single, the Angels’ shortstop couldn’t handle Robbie Grossman’s hard grounder behind second and then made an uncontrolled backhand flip towards Fletcher, but over his head. Chapman then sent an 84 mph slider over the head of the leaping Trout in center and over the fence behind him.
The A’s three-run advantage was, however, short lived. One pitch into the fourth and Pujols launched his 21st round tripper of 2019, sending an 89 mph two-seamer into the left field bleachers, and the lead had shrunk to two.
The Angels’ half of the fifth started off well for the A’s. But after Stassi’s fly to center sent Canha to the warning track for the second out, Fletcher singled, and Trout walked, setting the stage for Ohtani’s slicing double to left, whcih drove in Fletcher and advanced Trout to to third. Pujol’s grounder to Semien stopped the bleeding and left Oakland ahead 5-4 at the half-way point.
Southpaw Adalberto Mejía took over for Barría to start the bottom of the fifth and set Grossman, Chapman, and Olson down in order.
The problematic Blake Treinen started the sixth for the A’s. He struck out Kole Calhoun and then reversed course by allowing a game-tying home run to Upton, his 11th, to left. By now, Ryan Buchter was up and throwing in the A’s bullpen for the second time in the game. After Treinen walked Simmons and Rengifo, Buchter came in to try to limit the damage. Brad Ausmus countered by calling on Brian Goodwin to hit for Stassi. Buchter got him on a called third strike, a 92 mph four-seamer, and gave way to Yusmeiro Petit. He got Fletcher to pop out to Olson near the mound. Fiers’ streak of 20 consecutive starts without a loss was preserved and extended. He now is tied with Lefty Grove for the longest in franchise history. But it was not a good performance.
Noé Ramírez, who entered the game to start the A’s sixth, painfully undid the Halos’ comeback. Canha’s line drive off what looked like Ramírez’s buttocks but might have been his hip bounded to short, where Simons couldn’t make a play on it. Then Seth Brown whacked a triple to right to score Canha. It was the rookie’s second of the game, which tied a record last tied by Chapman last year. Khris Davis drove Brown in with a sac fly to the center field wall, his second RBI of the game.
When the 14,031 fans in attendance had finished singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” Keynan Middleton came into the ball game, relieving the unfortunate Ramírez. The latest Angels hurler issued two walks but escaped damage thanks to the pitchers’ best friend, which went Simmons to Rengifo to Pujols.
The nail bite inducing Joakim Soria faced three men in the Angels’ seventh. His best friend took the form of Semien to Profar to Olson.
Luis García toed the rubber for Los Angeles (or Anaheim, to be precise). He started his own DP, 1-4-6-3, and we went into the top of the ninth with Liam Hendriks on the mound, trying to redeem his recent unpleasantness in the Bronx. Three batters and seven pitches later he did, gaining his eighteenth save.
Petit got the win, raising his won-lost record to 5-3 and lowering his ERA to 2.84. The loss went to Ramírez. He’s now 4-3, 3.95 ERA.
The win leaves the A’s in second place in the AL west at 79-58, 9 1/2 games behind Houston. They are in a virtual tie with Cleveland for the second wild card spot, leading the Indians by one percentage point and trailing Tampa Bay by 1 game for the first wild card spot. Oakland has 25 1/3 games left to play. That third of a game will be played Friday night before they face Detroit for a full-scale encounter.
Tomorrow evening, Oakland will send RHP Tanner Roark (2-1, 3.30 ERA with them, 6-7, 4.24 ERA for Cincinnati) against Anaheim’s left handed Patrick Sandoval (0-1, 5.24 ERA).