By Morris Phillips
Matt Chapman’s headed to the All-Star Game as a reserve, and as a last-minute addition to the Home Run Derby.
Not a bad choice. But the American League could probably do just as well with Matt Olson, Chapman’s Oakland teammate.
While Chapman enjoyed a well-deserved day of rest ahead of his flight to Cleveland, Olson showed off his All-Star worthiness with a first inning, three-run homer in the A’s 7-4 win over the Mariners. Olson’s shot was his sixth in his last 10 games, and his 19th of the season, all of them hit since May 12, five days after Olson’s delayed season debut due to a broken bone in his hand.
“You hear a lot about the hamate injury and the strength not coming back for a while,” manager Bob Melvin said of Olson. “But when you look at his home runs per at-bat, I can’t imagine it’s not right at the top of the league.”
While the A’s switched into blast-off mode in the first two innings of Sunday’s series finale, taking a 6-0 lead after Marcus Semien led off the second with a home run, the host Mariners were self-destructing, that according to manager Scott Servais.
After Olson’s blast, the next two A’s reached, then found their way around the basepaths when Dylan Moore inexplicably allowed Chad Pinder’s base hit to slide through his legs and go all the way to the wall. Chad Pinder and Ramon Laureano scored on Moore’s error.
“It was the walk. Somewhere in the middle there’s always a walk. You have to stay aggressive, and that led into the Olson three-run homer. We really couldn’t stop it after that,” Servais said.
Seattle’s response–single runs in the second, fourth, sixth and eighth innings, all of those four runs courtesy of Omar Narvaez–wasn’t enough to get the Mariners even, or knock A’s starter Daniel Mengden out of the winner’s circle. Still Narvaez’ outburst was impressive; he homered twice sandwiching a pair of run-scoring singles in a 4 for 4 performance.
Mengden’s been the perfect follow-up to Frankie Montas’ suspension, winning four of five decisions for the first time in his disjointed big-league career. On Sunday, he pitched into the sixth inning, allowing three runs on six hits and no walks.
“When you come out of the game after the fifth inning with a lead, you’ve done your job. He’s done that,” Melvin said of Mengden.
The A’s recent ascension in the standings couldn’t be more reminiscent of what the club did in 2018. At 50-41, they’re only one game off their pace of last season, the precursor to the major’s best second half record that took them to 97 wins and a wild card playoff spot. But there are a couple of key differences.
Unlike last season, the A’s still have a realistic shot at winning the AL West. The Astros have a sizeable lead at 7 1/2 games, but they A’s still have 11 of the 19 games in the season series between the clubs to make up ground. Of course, the A’s will have to quickly reverse course in the rivalry, they’ve lost seven of the first eight to the Astros in 2019.
Also unlike 2018, the A’s haven’t found a couple of opponents to take advantage of like they did with the Tigers and Blue Jays (14-0 in 2018). Instead they’ve been dominated by the same Jays and Astros (1-13 in 2019). They could find some vulnerable opponents in the second half: the A’s have season series left with the improving White Sox, the downtrodden Royals and the dominant Yankees (seven games against each club).
Most importantly, unlike 2018, the wild card race is wide open. The A’s are right in the middle of a tight race with the Rays, Indians, Red Sox and Rangers with none of the five running away with the top spot as the Yankees did in 2018. That means the A’s have a realistic shot at hosting the game this time, and if they don’t finish on top, not having to play on the road against a clearly, superior club as the Yankees were last October.