Breathing, But Barely: A’s sweep the Astros on Canha’s walk-off hit, and avoid elimination in the AL West title chase

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–Too little, too late. Game 1 (through 6) counts just as much as Game 162. Save some of that offense (or defense) for tomorrow’s game. In 2021, the A’s have found themselves on the wrong end of all the familiar catchphrases that shape the confounding game of Major League Baseball.

A sweep of the AL West-leading Astros to end the home campaign sets up an exciting, and critical final week of baseball leading into the postseason. Yeah, the A’s did that by winning 4-3 on Sunday at the Coliseum, but their still six games out with six to play.

The wild card race? Not much hope there either. On Sunday, the Blue Jays and Yankees won, not to mention the huge issue of the Mariners being a game ahead of the A’s in both the division and the wild card race.

The good news? The A’s battled all weekend against long odds and came up winners against the second best team in the American League, and they made it happen in late game situations, which in 2021, have been often been problematic.

“There’s a lot of desperation in what we’re doing right now,” manager Bob Melvin said.

With the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Mark Canha delivered an RBI single–scoring Sean Murphy–to earn the A’s a sweep against the team that more often than not (over the last six seasons) has gotten the best of them.

“We needed to grab some momentum and grab some good feels,” Canha said. “To sweep a great team like that feels really good, especially given the last homestand and what’s on the line.”

The A’s finish the season with three games in Seattle starting Tuesday, followed by the final weekend at Minute Maid Park in Houston for three more. Sunday’s win kept them from being eliminated in the division, and six more wins consecutively probably won’t help. According to ESPN, the A’s have a 0.6 percent chance to make the postseason.

“We’re just going to keep fighting. I think everyone is pulling in the same direction,” Canha said.

Across the board statistically, the numbers frame the A’s as a good team, just not good enough. They finished the home campaign with a 43-38 mark, the sixth, straight season they’ve been over .500 at home. But 43 wins isn’t how playoff teams eat. All seven AL teams in the postseason hunt have either won more than 43 games at home or have a chance to do so in the final week (Seattle, Toronto).

The A’s pitching has been just fine, except when it hasn’t. Starters Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea all averaged more than nine strikeouts per nine innings in 2021, which ranks them 1-2-3 in Oakland history besting previous high averages posted by Vida Blue (1971), Gio Gonzales (2011) and Todd Stottlemyre (1995). But all three weren’t what they could be in 2021: Montas’ best outings didn’t take place until the season was half over, Bassitt was terrific until he was felled by a horrific injury in August, and Manaea pitched equal parts dynamite and kryptonite.

The biggest number for A’s pitching in 2021 was a 5.20 ERA by the entire staff in September prior to Saturday. That and the bullpen collapsed at the end of August and beginning September resulting in a couple of disturbing losses and the demotion of closer Lou Trivino.

Offensively, the A’s collective batting average of .239 entering this weekend says it all. That number ranks fourth lowest in the AL, even as batting averages throughout the industry have plummeted. For the A’s who have wonderful numbers in drawing walks, hitting home runs and XBH’s along with a team record 93 passes issued from being hit by pitches, the batting averages lagged, dragging down the overall product. The result a 23-26 record in one-run games, along with one too many losses in which they scored zero, one or two runs.

Finally, the season was a rollercoaster. The A’s started 0-6, than won a major league-best 44 games over the next 65, than only 41 of their next 85 culminating with Sunday’s win. Too much up and down, and not enough in the stretch, which has been the calling card for the franchise under Melvin’s leadership.

Cole Irvin is the A’s projected starter for Tuesday’s series opener in Seattle. Chris Flexen is expected to get the start for the Mariners.

Oakland A’s podcast with Barbara Mason: Jefferies out with elbow injury; Bassitt mending very well

Oakland A’s pitcher Daulton Jefferies has been sidelined with right elbow irritation and has been placed on the Injured List as of Sat Sep 18, 2021 (file photo San Francisco Chronicle)

On the A’s podcast with Barbara:

#1 Barbara, you have discussed many times on the program about the pitching and bullpen issues of the A’s. The A’s just recently have shelved pitcher Daulton Jefferies with a right elbow injury ulnar neuritis. Jefferies was showing signs of improvement but was put on the IL on Saturday.

#2 A’s manager Bob Melvin said that Jefferies elbow started bothering him after his last pitching performance on Sep 12. Jefferies relieved against the Texas Rangers and went 3 1/3 innings. Melvin said that Jefferies injury didn’t have anything to do with a ligament but was nerve irritation.

#3 Jefferies was supposed to start Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim but was replaced by James Kaprielian who went six innings and gave up two hits and struck out five in the A’s 3-1 win. Kaprielian really saved the day as the A’s cut the lead in the AL Wild Card race down to two games.

#4 A’s starter Chris Bassitt continued his rehab throwing 30 pitches on Saturday mixing them up with fastballs and a mix of other pitches. Bassitt faced switch hitter Skye Bolt. Bassitt also got to throw between innings simulating warms ups. Melvin said “He looked really good out there today.”

#5 The Seattle Mariners are in Oakland tonight to face the A’s the Mariners starting pitcher Tyler Anderson (6-9 ERA 4.14) and the A’s will go with Sean Manaea (10-9 ERA 3.95) a 6:40 pm PDT at the Oakland Ring Central Coliseum.

Barbara does the Oakland A’s podcasts each Monday at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

Ramon To The Rescue: Laureano takes control late, A’s rally to beat the Orioles, 7-5

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–The second Ramon Laureano fist pump came about six minutes after the first. And in Oakland A’s parlance, that’s the definition of winning time as the centerfielder hand-delivered a 7-5 win over the Orioles at the Coliseum.

Laureano’s first act was a leaping catch of D.J. Stewart’s drive to the centerfield wall that would have broken a 5-5 tie and given the Orioles an eighth-inning lead. Instead, Stewart stood motionless at the plate staring at Laureano with the ball snow-coned in his glove. The great catch picked up reliever Yusmeiro Petit–who responded with a fist pump of his own–and left Ryan Mountcastle stranded at second base.

Then with two outs in the bottom of the inning, and Mark Canha on board with a single, Laureano delivered a go-ahead two-run homer off Travis Lakins, who hadn’t allowed a run and only two hits in his previous nine appearances this season.

“He’s unbelievable out there in center,” starting pitcher Sean Manaea said of Laureano. “Each time it just impresses you a little bit more than it already has, which is insane because the bar is already crazy high. It’s awesome.”

“That’s just taking over a game,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s taking away two and giving you two. That’s pretty dramatic stuff.”

The win eased the frustration of dropping three straight to Baltimore and kept the A’s ahead of the pack in the AL West, a game in front of the Mariners, and a game-and-a-half ahead of the Astros.

The A’s came in a week removed from their 13-game win streak, a stark reminder in itself that the team had won just three of 15 outside the streak, including eight losses at home. Getting swept by the Orioles, along with producing baseball’s most bizarre story of the weekend–Jesus Luzardo breaking his finger while playing video games–wasn’t the team’s preference for sure.

But the improving O’s gave the A’s all they could handle, tying the game, 2-2 in the third, 4-4 in the fifth, then briefly leading 5-4 in the seventh.

It was at that point the A’s took control and the Orioles’ two bullpen standouts–Lakins and Paul Fry–uncharacteristically allowed runs to score. That Laureano was in the middle of it all wasn’t a surprise, the defensive standout has developed a reputation for lifting his team in high-leverage situations.

The A’s welcome back Marcus Semien on Monday, as the Blue Jays arrive for a four-game set with Frankie Montas and Steven Matz battling in the opener.

A’s fans humbled, and the A’s dismantled by the Astros in a season-opening sweep

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND, CA–Season opening series observations from the Coliseum: pitchers ahead of hitters or hitters ahead of pitchers?

Well, more like Astros ahead of Athletics, and Houston hitters ahead of humorous, disgruntled A’s fans who had more than a year to prepare lugs to unload on their rivals and their cheating shenanigans.

The fans–especially that guy in Section 221–didn’t disappoint. Neither did the Astros.

“Castro Valley disowned yoouu!” Section 221 guy bellowed at Astros’ catcher Jason Castro.

And on the next pitch, Castro went opposite field off Sean Manaea for a 3-1 Astros’ lead.

The third inning, the same guy, his presence growing in a socially distanced crowd of fewer than 5,000, had Jose Altuve in his sights.

“Altuve! Show us your tattoo!” He shouted in reference to the shortstop’s equally humorous denial of wearing a wire signaling pitches during the 2019 playoffs. Altuve said he kept his teammates from ripping off his jersey in a game-ending celebration of a win over the Yankees to prevent revealing…a tattoo that was too ugly to be seen on national television.

But what was ugly on Sunday was Altuve’s response to the A’s and their fans. Two pitches after the tattoo reference, he ripped a double down the left field line. Later in that inning, with Manaea an out from escaping undamaged, Yuli Gurriel doubled into the right field gap to score Altuve and Yordan Alvarez.

And those exchanges encapsulated the weekend, the more the home fans yapped, the more the Astros slapped hits all over the place. In beating the A’s 9-2 and sweeping the four-game set, Houston never trailed and they had at least one base runner in 30 of the 36 innings. The A’s–truly an afterthought in a battle between the fans and the cheaters–came up empty on all fronts. They scored just nine runs, and 1-1 ties after the first inning on Friday and Sunday were as close as they got to being competitive. The Oakland bullpen was left so battered and bruised, outfielder Ka’ai Tom made his first major league pitching appearance in the ninth, a feat that comes before Tom’s first major league hit (0 for 6).

“We just crushed them from the first pitch to the last pitch of the whole series,” said Chas McCormick. “It was cool to watch, cool to be a part of.”

“We have to look at it as four games of 162,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We need to play with a little bit more urgency, we obviously have to play better. We got another tough team coming in, then we go there (Houston). We got to turn things around. It’s not just going to happen for us. We’ve got to play better baseball and this was not good baseball for us.”

“Altuve! You’re a cheater… and a bum… and you’re short!”

Injuries took a toll on the A’s as well with Sean Murphy suffering a wrist injury and missing the series final three games. Ramon Laureano played Thursday and Friday but injured his wrist sliding into a bag, which might have made Pete Rose famous, but is a move that isn’t endorsed by managers who prefer healthy players.

And on Sunday, Chad Pinder, already with a couple of slick catches to start his season, was forced to leave the game after a leaping catch at the wall left him dinged up. That incident happened four pitches into the ballgame, foreshadowing what would be a long Sunday afternoon for Oakland.

The A’s fell to 0-4, the first time they’ve started a season with four losses since 1987. Meanwhile, the Astros scored at least eight runs in each game of the series, becoming just the fourth team in Major League history to load all that offense into a season’s first four games.

It’s not often a team anticipates the arrival of the reigning World Champions for some relief, but that’s where the A’s are with the Dodgers arriving on Monday night. Frankie Montas will face the Dodgers’ Dustin May in the opener.

No power, no pitching, no win for the A’s in Seattle

by Charlie O. Mallonee

The Oakland Athletics (3-4) suffered their third consecutive loss on Friday night in Seattle as the Mariners won the opening game of the four-game wrap-around series 5-3. For the Mariners (4-4), it was their third consecutive victory.

Manaea was no mystery

Sean Manaea (0-2, 7.00) made his second start of the accelerated season and the results were less than spectacular. Manaea lasted just 4.1 innings allowing five runs (3 earned) on six hits while striking out four hitters.

Manaea’s ERA currently sits at 7.00 which is the kind of number that gets you sent to Triple-A or released in the normal baseball universe. In 2020, you might expect that two poor starting performances could mean a trip to San Jose to workout with the “taxi squad”, but that is not going to happen. With A.J. Puk on the Injured List, no front line starter is going to be sent anywhere.

Manaea is known as being a tenacious worker who will do everything he can do to get his “mojo” back on the mound. The fear in a situation like this is that it could be something physically wrong and not just something wrong with his pitching motion. The A’s have not given any indication that they think Manaea has any type of potential injury problem.

The bottom line is the A’s need Manaea to find a way to win games and win them right now. Each loss in this shortened season equals 2.7 losses. That means his two losses are the equivalent of 5.4 losses in a 162-game season. That many consecutive losses would cause major panic in the front office of any major league club.

The A’s need Manaea to find a way to get a win in his next start if they are to stay competitive for a playoff spot.

Three hits will not get it done

The A’s managed to collect only three hits in the game on Friday night in Seattle. Marcus Semien hit his first triple of the season in the top the eighth inning that drove in two runs for Oakland. Semien now has a six-game hitting streak and is batting .280 in those games.

Ramon Laureano hit his second double of the year in the game and Stephen Piscotty hit a single that eventually allowed him to score on Semien’s triple.

Laureano did hit a Sacrifice Fly that produced the A’s third and final run of the contest.

Oakland left four men on base. They went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and they left two runners in scoring position with two out.

For a team that is supposed to be known for its power, the A’s are experiencing a real power drought.

Walker was the Mariners star of the game

Taijuan Walker (1-1, 4.35) made his second start of the season for Seattle on Friday night and he was spectacular. Walker worked seven scoreless innings allowing only one hit and two walks while striking out eight Oakland hitters. He struck out the side in the fifth inning.

Taylor Walker picked up his second save of the young season in the game.

Seattle had a good night at the plate

J.P. Crawford went 2-for-4 and two runs on Friday night. He now has a five-game hitting streak with multiple hits in his last three games.

Kyle Lewis extended his hitting streak to eight games by going 2-for-4 and scoring a run in the win over the A’s.

Kyle Seager hit his fourth double of the season in the fourth inning which drove in two runs. It was his fifth extra-base hit of the season.

Up next

The first pitch for game two of the series is scheduled for 6:10 PM on Saturday night. The A’s will send RHP Mike Fiers (0-0, 9.00) to the mound to face off against the Mariners LHP Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 13.50).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Angels and Bundy bounce back on Saturday to hand the A’s a 4-1 loss

by Charlie O. Mallonee

The Oakland Athletics were not able to capitalize on their big Friday night extra-inning win on Saturday. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim came out and played the game as if Friday night never happened. In a term every little leaguer knows, “they just flushed it!” and beat the Athletics 4-1.

Dylan Bundy made the difference for LAA

Bundy (1-0) made his debut as an Angel after having been with Baltimore his entire career. As a former number one draft pick, much was expected of Bundy, but many have graded his time as an Oriole as a disappointment. He posted a record of 38-45 in 127 starts with a 4.67 ERA. During most of that time, the Baltimore baseball operations department has been less than stellar.

Bundy came to the Angels in an off-season trade in exchange for four minor league players.

On Saturday, Bundy gave up just one run (earned) on three hits while striking out seven and walking none in 6.2 innings. He faced 24 batters and threw 90 pitches (64 strikes).

Manaea was not a mystery on Saturday

Justin Upton put the Angels up on the board in the fourth inning when took a 1-1 pitch from Manaea over the left-field wall for his first home run of the season. It was also the 299th home run of Upton’s career.

Manaea had retired the previous 11 hitters he faced.

The fifth inning proved to be Manaea’s downfall. The Angels scored three runs off four hits. That sent Manaea (0-1) to the showers as J.B. Wendelken came on in relief.

With their 4-0 lead, the Angels never looked back.

A’s threatened in the seventh

With two out in the bottom of the seventh, Stephen Piscotty doubled down the left-field line. After a pitching change, Robbie Grossman drove Piscotty home with single to left. Grossman was able to steal second base and Chad Pinder walked. Grossman moved up to third on a wild pitch by Keynan Middleton. Austin Allen then grounded out to end the inning.

That would be all of the scoring for Oakland in the game.

The highlight for the A’s

Jesus Luzardo entered the game in the top of the sixth inning for Oakland. Everyone was anxious to see if the young pitcher could pick up where he left off from last season.

Luzardo threw 3.0 scoreless innings allowing just one hit while striking out two and walking one batter. He faced 10 hitters and tossed 44 pitches (28 strikes).

Luzardo ended 2019 with four scoreless outings and now has a 10.0-inning scoreless streak. He has given up just two runs in 15.0 career innings with 1.20 ERA.

Up next

There will many eyes watching the game on Sunday. The Angels will send their two-way superstar – Shohei Ohtani – to the mound to make a pitching start for the first time since 2018. He was unable to pitch in 2019 while recovering from “Tommy John Surgery’. In 2018, Ohtani posted a record of 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts. He recorded a 1.16 WHIP.

Mike Fiers will make the start for the A’s. Fiers finished 2019 with a record of 15-4 in 33 starts and an ERA of 3.90. He worked 184.2 innings and struck out 126 batters with a 1.19 WHIP.

That’s Amaury’s News and Commentary podcast: Players say they will take action in their own hands against Astros; Will MLB act if beanball war starts with teams throwing at Stros?

photo from newsday.com: Houston Astros Dusty Baker says he is asking MLB Commissioner to take action against any teams who will start on field trouble against the Astros during the 2020 season which could lead to beanball wars

On That’s Amaury’s News and Commentary podcast:

#1 After a number of players have voiced their anger about the Houston Astros and sign stealing they have said their only choice left is to retaliate against the Astros which could amount a lot of bean balls this season.

#2 One of the players that teams might go head hunting for is the Astros Jose Altuve whose possible wired under the jersey incident in the World Series has got the Dodgers and Yankees in particular pretty hot

#3 Astros manager Dusty Baker says that out of concern he’s asked MLB to make it clear that anyone retaliating against any of the Astros players should face discipline by baseball.

#4 If the Astros wind up winning a bunch a games again will there be doubts about how legit those victories will be?

#5 Oakland A’s pitcher Sean Manea made it clear in an interview this week that he’s very angry with the Astros and that their cheating took a lot away from Manea and other players who could have won those games against Houston.

Amaury Pi Gonzalez is the vice president of the Major League Baseball Hispanic Heritage Museum and does News and Commentary each week at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

At Home. Home Runs? A’s simply out of character in Wild Card game loss to the Rays

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND — Seven A’s homered at least 20 times this season. Manager Bob Melvin’s wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel in advance of the win-or-swim Wild Card game: he penciled all seven into his lineup on Wednesday against the Rays.

What happened next wasn’t what anyone in Oakland was expecting. One of the most prolific power hitting teams in the history of Major League baseball whiffed. The A’s hit 257 home runs this season, 315 doubles or triples, and none of that carried over to the disappointing Wild Card loss, 5-1 to the Rays.

The A’s managed just eight singles across nine innings, and even those weren’t struck with much authority. Charlie Morton and three relievers shut the A’s down without allowing even as much as rallying moment.

The Rays? They smashed four home runs in the first five innings, including the first courtesy of Yandy Diaz on the game’s fifth pitch. In the season of the home run, the Rays got the directive. What happened to the A’s?

“We couldn’t string anything together tonight,” Melvin said. “They kind of beat us with our game. We’re normally a home run-hitting team,”

“Get into this Wild Card game and a lot of times it comes down to pitching and timely hitting.  They got us on the run early in the game, and we really couldn’t answer.”

Home runs don’t always decide baseball games, and they haven’t traditionally played a major factor in postseason games, but times are changing. The 2017 World Series between the Astros and Dodgers was supercharged, and this postseason could be similarly built. But if one club belts four, and the other swings and misses, that’s always been decisive, playoff game or not.

Playing at home normally provides an advantage as well. The Oakland crowd, better than 54,000, setting a new Wild Card attendance record, did their part. But the A’s couldn’t follow suit, another anomaly given their 52-29 record at the Coliseum this season.

Starting Sean Manaea seemed like a smart move as well. Tampa Bay didn’t hit left-handed pitching that well this season, ranking in the lower third in most categories. But it mattered little. Diaz, fresh off the disabled list, and seeing his first big league game action since July 22, made Rays manager Kevin Cash seem like a genius. The hard swinging Diaz homered opposite field in each of his first two at-bats.

Manaea lasted just two plus innings, but he wasn’t awful. The A’s ace struck out five, didn’t walk any, and allowed just four hits. But three of those four left the park.

“I just was trying to get good pitches to hit and luckily they went out,” Diaz said.

And one more home run related note: The A’s hit the fourth most home runs among AL clubs this season, but those 257 home runs ranks them eight best all-time as home run records fell like confetti in 2019.

And the Rays? The were a bit of an afterthought in terms of power hitting with 217 home runs, 15 fewer than the American League average this season. But the Rays were number one by allowing 181 homers, the fewest in all of baseball.

Countdown to the AL Wild Card Game

1-Coliseum

By Charlie O. Mallonee

In just over 19 hours, Sean Manaea is going to throw the first pitch in the 2019 American League Wild Card game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics. In just over three hours (after all, it is an American League game) one team will be leaving for Houston and the other team will heading home to pack up their lockers.

Manaea gets the call

The A’s had to decide between using Mike Fiers and Sean Manaea as the starter on Wednesday night. Fiers has been “the ace” of the staff with 33 starts, a 15-4 record, a 3.90 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.19. In two starts versus the Rays, he gave up just three total runs.

Manaea was activated off the Injured List on September 1st and made five starts in the final month of the season. He posted a 4-0 record with a 1.21 ERA and a WHIP of 0.78. Manaea has always been the heir apparent to the number starter’s role for Oakland.

Jon Morosi was a guest today on the Damon, Ratto, and Kolsky Show. Morosi — who is a reporter for the MLB Network and Fox Sports — said he feels that using Manaea as the starter on Wednesday is the perfect choice between the two pitchers.

Morton is the man for Tampa

Charlie Morton will take the hill for the Rays. He posted a record of 16-6 with 3.05 ERA for the season. After the Rays made “the opener” famous last year, Morton — a classic starter — became their star this season. Morton will use his curveball 37-percent of the time in the game on Wednesday night.

The A’s love the Coliseum

The Athletics record at home this season was 52-29 (.642). You would have to think that the A’s will feel more confident playing on their home field.

The A’s and Rays this season

The two teams played seven games this season. The A’s won four games and the Rays won three. Oakland won 2-of-3 in Tampa Bay and the teams split a four-game series in Oakland.

The odds

The A’s are the favorites on the money line -125. The projected run total is 7.5.

MLB The Show podcast with Matt Harrington: It’s Rays and A’s for the Wednesday wild card, but where?

photo from sfgate.com: Oakland Athletics’ Marcus Semien rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in Seattle.

On the MLB The Show podcast with Matt:

#1 The Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays both qualify for at least one game of wild card baseball the site is yet to be determined as it’s too close to call but either way there’s no doubt it should be a nail biter.

#2  The Rays Tommy Pham led the way with a two run homer and they got quality pitching from Tyler Glasnow who pitched 4 1/3 innings of no hit ball against the Toronto Blue Jays as the Rays beat the Jays 6-2 to clinch for a wild card birth.

#3 In the National League the Los Angeles Dodgers are in a four game win streak they took the first game game of their series against the San Francisco Giants on Friday night 9-2 and ran away with the NL West this season by over 20 games on top.

#4 The Oakland A’s announced they will start Sean Manaea who came in the season after recovery from Tommy John surgery and in his first two games he threw shutout ball. Manaea has won his last four starts with 1.21 ERA.

#5 The timing is good for the return of A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty who just came off the IL manager Bob Melvin said it will be an adjustment period over the weekend in Seattle in preparation for Wednesday’s wild card game vs. the Rays.

Matt Harrington does the MLB podcasts each Saturday at http://www.sportsradioservice.com