By Morris Phillips
Well, you can’t argue about a 13-game win streak, especially the A’s just concluded job with all the runs they scored and how lopsided many of the wins were.
No stretch to say that the A’s were hot enough that they weren’t going to lose to just anyone, not after constructing the biggest win streak in MLB in nearly four years.
Well, on Sunday afternoon John Means wasn’t just anyone. Means pitched into the seventh inning and refused to let any Oakland hitter get solid contact on his pitches outside Ramon Laureano’s solo shot in the fourth, his only blemish.
Austin Hays was the just the high-level sidekick Means needed, with homers in the second and fourth innings to give the Orioles a lead then give them lead for good. Baltimore added five runs in the bottom of the eighth to win convincingly.
Bob Melvin was philosophical after such a disappointing ending to a brilliant two-week stretch.
“I mean, you do want to win series but you also want to get greedy. And we’ve been greedy here recently,” the A’s manager said. “It’s about winning every game that you go out there and play. At the end of the day, if you leave and you win a series, that’s a good thing. But we wanted to win today. We wanted to win bad today.”
Means lowered his ERA in April to 1.50 by being the master of versatility, mixing in a moderate number of strikeouts (6) with a lot of weak contact on balls put in play, along with a hint of caution, three walks issued all at strategic junctures. On a day where Means threw more balls and had pitches fouled off (57 of 101 total pitches) than guys normally do and have success, the 28-year old veteran helped himself with a lot of patience and determination.
“He was exceptional today,” manager Brandon Hyde said of his ace. “The way he’s throwing the baseball right now — you feel good about your chances when John Means is on the mound. This is a guy who is going to pound the strike zone and be really competitive with multiple pitches to mix. He’s facing playoff-type lineups and going into the seventh inning.”
Means, a draft day afterthought who has worked himself into a staff number one, has seen just three starters perform better through the season’s first five starts: only Jacob de Grom, Corbin Burnes and Joe Musgrove have lower ERAs. The key for a Cy-Young level performer who has never had overpowering stuff?
Keep ’em off-balance.
“Because of the breaking balls, they can’t just look high-low anymore,” Hyde said of Means’ repertoire. “Being a little more unpredictable and his pitch mix is going to create guys not being on time. That’s the difference between this year and in the last couple years.”
The first-place A’s aren’t a playoff-type lineup just yet–not after the most fascinating and confounding 22-game start to a season in a lengthy period of big league history. But after Sunday, they know what needs fixing: an anemic team batting average of .218.
The best American League pitchers will take advantage of a lineup that makes too many outs and strikes out nearly nine times a game. The A’s and Bob Melvin are aware of it, as were Jose Berrios, Matthew Boyd and Jose Urena, the other starting pitchers that pitched well against Oakland during the 13-game streak. The A’s ability to draw walks, hit home runs, and make decisive, offensive plays in close games will only take them so far. In this case, 13 games into what could have a been a 14-game win streak.
The A’s head to St. Petersburg for a three-game set with the Rays that starts Monday. A potential rematch with Means looms for the opener of the homestand on Friday night at the Coliseum.