By Morris Phillips
Normally, a trip to Oracle Park doesn’t prompt an offensive breakout. But these aren’t normal times: from protective masks, empty stadiums to overnight thunderstorms by the Bay, baseball in 2020 has a different rhythm.
The A’s undoubtedly have caught that rhythm. And they’re not a normal team, in fact, through 22 games of a two-month season, they’re exceptional.
Friday and Saturday, the A’s were merely good when they absolutely had to be, winning with a pair of epic, ninth inning rallies. On Sunday, they were fabulous from first pitch to last, drubbing the Giants 15-3 behind 17 hits, nine of which went for extra bases including a pair of massive homers.
“For a while we were winning close games, getting big hits and the pitching was ruling the day,” manager Bob Melvin said. “It seems the bats have woken up some.”
Melvin said woken, Oakland fans might say hella woke after Chad Pinder–first pitch swinging in a pinch-hitting role–touched off a three-homer, fifth inning with a majestic bomb that left the park traveling at 112 mph.
The reaction from the Oakland dugout to the crack of the bat reverberating through a near-silent ballpark? Priceless.
The cheers from Pinder’s fast reacting teammates almost seem verbalized, as in “I’ve seen home runs, but not like this..”
Pinder entered a 2-2 game, as Giants’ starter Logan Webb departed, and manager Gabe Kapler summoned lefty reliever Wandy Peralta to face Tony Kemp. Melvin played a hunch that the righty-hitting Pinder could incite a rally. The manager’s intuition–as often happens with hot clubs–was spot on. Pinder’s two-run shot led to a nine-run outburst that put the game away.
After Pinder struck, Mark Canha tripled home two runs, Stephen Piscotty hit a three-run shot, and Marcus Semien add a two-run blast. Incredibly, Piscotty’s homer measured thirty feet further than Pinder’s, and one-hopped the bleachers’ concourse.
“Not even in batting practice have I seen a ball go up there,” Melvin said afterwards via Zoom chat. “It looked like it was headed for the glove (yes, the giant-sized, leather glove above the concourse).”
Mike Fiers went six innings, allowing seven hits and two runs, and picked up the win. His 91-pitch effort was his lengthiest to date.
The A’s have won 13 of 15 after a 2-4 start to the season. Their 16-6 record is the best in the Majors.
Are they the best team in baseball? Maybe, maybe not, but they certainly looked like it in sweeping the Giants.
NOTES: Through 22 games, the A’s are a statistical conundrum that makes perfect sense when combined with these two facts: they don’t have any significant injuries, and after winning 95 games in back-to-back seasons with that group returning almost intact, they have more confidence-building experience than their opponents, especially on offense.
When have the A’s been able to say either of those two statements?
Now the conundrum: the A’s entered Sunday with a .219 team batting average, which ranked them 14th in the American League, ahead of only Cleveland (.196!!). But the A’s have drawn 92 walks (3rd in the AL), and been hit by a pitch 17 times (1st).
A dramatic juxtaposition indeed, the walks and hit batters keep the A’s above water despite their anemic batting average. But here’s an even more startling statistical twist.
The A’s have struck out 221 times in 22 games, more than 10 times a game, and the second most in baseball behind only the Braves, who struck out 16 times in their 4-0 win over Miami on Sunday.
Balancing those strikeouts? The A’s have hit 35 home runs, more than three for every two games played, a high number of which have come late in games to either tie, lead or win.
And making all those disparate offensive numbers sing? The A’s pitching staff has compiled a 3.49 ERA, fifth best in baseball, and a number almost a full run lower than the MLB average (4.41). When you have to wait a full nine innings for an offense to kick in, you need a pitching staff that keeps you in the game. The A’s staff does that.
A’s-Giants series numbers for the A’s offensively: 29 strikeouts (14 on Saturday), 35 hits (17 on Sunday), nine home runs (multiple homers in an inning, once in each of the three games), 15 walks (five off starter Logan Webb, who departed in the fifth inning on Sunday).