Do not overlook the Oakland As from 2022.
The rebuilding A’s completed a series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday, beating them 6-3 for their third victory in four days at Tropicana Field.
*** Click here to review today’s game thread! ***
How well Oakland is doing over the next six months of the marathon is still unknown, but they are making some noise in the beginning. A week into the season, they are over the 0.500 mark, despite playing away against a few expected candidates, and at least opponents will have to take them seriously.
Today was a perfect example when the A’s simply outplayed the other club. Their jugs chewed their way through effective laps, including both the starter and the bullpen. Their batsmen put together several race-scoring rallies along with some tough contacts and productive situational punches. Their defense made several plays while the Rays made a key foul.
Oakland are trying every possible thing in their lineup to see what works, and so far much of it is going well. They shook up the strike order again, and a few more races fell out, and on the pitching side, a new reliever earned his first career save.
Timely to beat
For four straight innings, the A’s put runners at base and then did something about it, following either up with a clutch shot or a productive out to drive someone home.
It started in the 2nd round. A couple of singles set the table, and with two outs on the board, Cristian Pache grounded a sharp single up the middle. That would have been enough for an RBI alone, but Tampa Bay took a costly stumble on defense to make it worse. An outside player clinked the pickup, and then another player bubbled it further, and when they got the ball in, Pache had sprinted all the way around the bases for a Little League homer.
The game went down as a single and an error, but nonetheless, it was three races on the scoreboard. Pache completed the circuit in 15.90 seconds, A’s fastest home-to-home trip since Adam Rosales in 2017, though Rosales obviously recorded that time after hitting a homer over the wall, according to official goal scorer David Feldman.
Was Pache tired after it ran around the bags? “No, I’m still young,” he said, via Matt Kawahara from SF Chronicle.
After that display of sheer bustle, Oakland turned up the strength in the 3rd inning. With a runner on first, Sean Murphy destroyed a ball to the dead center, barely missing a homer and settled for an RBI double. His launch speed of 114.0 mph on this rocket is the highest in his career, and one of those dozen or so highest in MLB so far this season.
He barreled it so hard that it sailed over the Platinum Glove defender Kevin Kiermaier, who usually catches up with everything. Kiermaier had high praise for Murphy after the match, via team insider Martin Gallegos:
“He has stupid power. He was locked inside and he can well spin the ball back and hit the ball very hard. I like my chances more times than not, but big old asses like him, man, I tip the hat. I wish I had that power. “
However, this presents a problem. Murphy just got the nickname Cakes because of his critically acclaimed backside, but now an opponent just called him a Big Ol ‘Donkey. What do we do?
Big ol badonkadonkey.
– Shelby Thomas Chraska (@ShelbyChraska) April 14, 2022
OK, back to the game. The A’s scored again in the 4th inning, this time they only needed one hit. Walk, single, walk loaded the bases with an out, and a simple contact got the job done. Chad Pinder hit a grounder just soft enough to avoid double play, Tony Kemp added some smart base running to ensure only one out was recorded and the runner scored from third.
5. inning was a similar situation. Single, walk, single loaded ’em up with no one out, and a grounder past Kevin Smith got one home. Rays completed the doubles on this occasion, but even that was not enough to stop the run from scoring. All Smith had to do was hit it somewhere, and it worked. Of course, the rally could have been even bigger! But it could also have turned into nothing, and cashing in one go helped keep the pressure on.
Oakland went down in order the rest of the day, but the six races held up to victory. It was not a slug party, but they put base runners together and came through repeatedly with clutch contact in key situations, in a way that the 2021 team often did not.
And an extra note to Smith, who finally got his first hit of the year after starting 0-to-16. He singled and went, scoring both times, producing a run with his GIDP and playing great defense at third base.
With an early lead, A’s pitching staff never let the opponent fight back into the match. They did not miss a host of bats with only four strikeouts, but they also did not offer any free help without walking out all day. Between the starter and three relievers, it only took 106 spots to get through all nine innings.
The starter was Cole Irvin, who delivered a quality effort. He was perfect in five of the first six innings, with only a spot of trouble in the 2nd, resulting in a run, and he then put down the 6th in just five places. The rays finally came to him in the 7th, which Brandon Lowe crushed a two-run homer, but by that time Oakland already had a comfortable lead.
- Irvin: 6⅓ ip, 3 runs, 2 Ks, 0 BB, 1 HR, 5 hits, 71 pitches
Most of the day, Tampa Bay just couldn’t put anything up against the left wing, even though they started committing to tougher contact towards the end of his outing. At that point, it was too late when the A’s absorbed the blow from Lowe and then turned on their bullpen to finish it off.
The Relievers closed the door with little resistance and recorded eight outs while letting only two runners reach the base. Sunday Acevedo stopped momentum in the 7th after Lowe’s dinger, so AJ Puk worked around a single in 8., and Dany Jiménez sealed the 9th despite a faulty runner reaching first. It was the first career MLB except for Jimenez, in his fifth career MLB appearance, and he was surprised and excited to get the call to the opportunity.
It’s not the most flashy boxing score ever, especially compared to the Rays pitchers who knock out a dozen strikers, but that was exactly what Oakland needed today. With the lead in hand, they did not snatch and gave the opponent extra chances, but instead challenged every batter. They did not beat themselves, nor was the other team able to beat them.
The pitchers, however, had some help as A’s defense provided a few highlights. The star of the show today was Billy McKinneywho made a couple of great plays in the right field.
In the second half, Irvin was in a jam, leading with a double and two singles. One race was already at home and two more were at the base without anyone out. The next batter flew out to the deep right and the runners tried to pick themselves up and advance, but McKinney was not about to let that happen.
That double play changed the inning and did not completely end the rally, but emptied it markedly. Instead of second and third with one out, it was the runner on third with two outs, and four places later Irvin escaped with no further problems.
Extra hat tip for 2B referee Hunter Wendelstedtwho was knocked to the ground, yet made the call in the midst of the tumbling!
McKinney struck again later. In the 8th inning, with a runner on first and no one out, he chased a fly ball down into foul territory and made an excellent sliding catch. For the second time in the match, the Rays had a promising start to an inning, but were then put back by a McKinney gem.
In the 9th he moved to the 1st base, and there he was accused of a mistake, though not a violent one. He was too far from the bag for a grounder, and when the second baseman came to it, McKinney could not come back in time to beat the runner. It’s a common mistake for a new first baseman, and something he will definitely learn from as he gains experience in the position, and yet the runner was later stranded.
None of McKinney’s games directly prevented a run, like throwing someone out on the plate, but they did prevent Tampa Bay from building bigger threats. It’s the kind of defensive support that can quietly make the difference in a 6-3 game.
Play, set, match
The A’s entered Tropicana Field as underdogs and they leave with a league win. They won a landslide in the opening and then recorded two more solid wins, and even in their one loss, they took it to extra and kept the lead in the 10th inning. In the three wins, they allowed a total of seven races, and in the four games, Oakland’s lineup gathered to score 31 times.
Best of all, they are fun. Everyone contributes, from the sitting veterans to the new rookies, from the attack to the defense to all corners of the pitching staff, and even the match they lost was a great trip to watch. The victories are a good bonus and hopefully they keep coming, but we do not have to get too caught up in the early position to enjoy what we see. They are hungry and only a week into the rebuilding season they have already started to grow.
Cristian Pache on A’s vibes: “It is important to have joy on the team. The game is won from dugout. We are united at all times and support each other. Thanks to God, we are a team with a lot of soul and always give the best of ourselves on the field so our fans can enjoy it. ”
– Martin Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) April 14, 2022