The A’s have out A’s’d themselves.
How could anything noteworthy have happened at the Coliseum Tuesday night, you ask?
It’s April 20 and the season is 12 days old. The Baltimore Orioles were the only team with a lower Opening Day payroll ($43.7 million) than Oakland ($47.8 million), according to Cot’s baseball contracts. The announced crowd was a paltry 3,748 – the result of an offseason gutting and a deteriorating relationship with many of the A’s loyal, longtime supporters. Three runs were scored in total.
But that’s exactly what makes it all so fascinating. The A’s are 7-5 and tied for first place with the Los Angeles Angels in what looks to be a not-so-daunting American League West.
There’s something different going on with Oakland to start the season. Usually there’s a familiar formula for baseball in The Town – solid pitching and a streaky offense that generally disappoints in the clutch. Not this year. The 2022 A’s have been getting hits when they need ‘em. Seth Brown played the hero Tuesday night, as his two-run double in the sixth inning propelled the A’s to a 2-1 win over the O’s.
PULL THE LEVER KRONK!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/FSkdqp2pEW
— Oakland A’s (@Athletics) April 20, 2022
Brown is the poster child of the A’s enigmatic offense this season. He’s only slashing .194/.286/.389 this season but he’s second in the American League in RBI with 11. (BTW, I’m still a believer in the RBI, since I think the stat encapsulates the weird, opportunistic nature of baseball – but that’s a whole ‘nother issue.)
Likewise, the A’s have been supremely opportunistic. They rank 22nd in OPS (.645) and 21st in batting average (.219). Yet when the A’s wake up Wednesday morning, they’ll do it knowing no other baseball team has scored more than them (60 runs) this season. That’s because Oakland ranks first in batting with runners in scoring position (.333) and tied for the AL lead with eight multi-run homers.
The law of averages say the A’s will come back down to Earth at some point. Still, the no-name, makeshift bullpen is overshooting expectations. A quarter of the team is currently on the COVID-19 injured list. A 7-5 start has never looked so good.
The roster has undergone a major transformation since Friday. It all started when the team headed north of the border to Toronto for a three-game series with the Blue Jays and Matt Chapman.
Canada remains strict on letting unvaccinated players compete at the Rogers Center, so every time a team goes there and puts players on the restricted list, we can put two-and-two together. The A’s placed catcher Austin Allen and southpaws A.J. Puk and Kirby Snead on the restricted list Friday, while outfielder Stephen Piscotty landed on the COVID IL.
Then came Monday’s upheaval, when Allen, Puk and Snead joined Piscotty on the COVID IL, along with infielder Jed Lowrie, utility man Chad Pinder and closer Lou Trivino. That’s seven dudes on the ‘rona IL out of 28 roster spots if you’re counting at home. And seven little-known substitutes added to the squad: left-handed pitcher Zach Logue, right-handed pitcher Ryan Castellani, catcher Christian Bethancourt, infielder Drew Jackson, left-handed pitcher Sam Selman and infielders Nick Allen and Christian Lopes.
The A’s have put some patchwork jobs together before, but these past few days have been remarkable even by their standards.
There was some straight up magic on the field Tuesday night.
You can start with the whiz kid in center field, Cristian Pache. Acquired in the Matt Olson deal from the Atlanta Braves, the 23-year-old seems to make a highlight a night. On Tuesday night, he made three wild catches, none cooler than this bobble at the wall.
Cristian Pache does something exciting on a nightly basis 💰 pic.twitter.com/3kWg8usb9G
— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) April 20, 2022
The winning pitcher was Logue, who recorded four outs and made his MLB debut after being acquired in the Chapman deal. He got bailed out by Castellani, who pitched 1.2 hitless innings to serve as a bridge to the ninth inning. Sam Moll couldn’t close out the first big-league save of his career, so Zach Jackson got it done with the final out. Those four dudes you never heard of got through the final four innings of an MLB game without giving up a run.
Allen also made his much-anticipated MLB debut at second base and reached on an error in his second at-bat. He also flashed some baseball IQ in just his second inning in the field when he tried to pretend to drop a fly ball, but the infield fly rule came into effect.
This is a cool moment preserved for Nick Allen pic.twitter.com/0ngYBchHdX
— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) April 20, 2022
Bethancourt scored on Brown’s game-winning hit and also made a stellar running grab in foul territory to get the A’s out of a seventh-inning jam. A’s reclamation projects Sheldon Neuse and Billy McKinney always seem to make their imprint on games.
First-year skipper Mark Kotsay also had a team-building moment in the fifth inning, when he made a mound visit but allowed starter Cole Irvin to remain in the game at 93 pitches. Irvin got out of the frame two pitches later.
Yet, baseball fans probably won’t hear about any of that from the national headlines. Everyone will be hung up on the 3,748 attendance figure and it’s a shame. It’s to be expected with the way the A’s have treated their fan base over the years and spurned even more away with their understaffed Opening Night experience at the Coliseum on Monday night.
This is the bed owner John Fisher has made for the franchise and it’s only going to get worse.
On Tuesday night, the A’s announced that Wednesday’s game was moved up to 3 p.m. PT – in the middle of a work day – from its originally scheduled first pitch at 6:40 p.m. Showers are expected to pass through Oakland Wednesday night – but, damn – there could be just hundreds of people in the stadium for that hastily rescheduled matinee.
For those who observe 4:20, it should be around the fourth inning and there should be plenty of space in the third deck.
The nine dudes in the field will probably be overshadowed by the sea of empty green seats all season, so get used to it. Lest we forget the A’s are a baseball team and not strictly an attendance barometer.
Hate on the Orioles all you want, but the A’s went 5-5 through Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Toronto with Kotsay on a 10-game road trip to begin the year. Usually you wait until the 40-game mark to get a good early read on the league, but you can’t deny that Oakland is finding ways to win.
Again, it’s April 20. For all we know, this is the last time the A’s will sniff first place in the division or be two games above .500. But the AL West looks pretty wide open at the moment.
The Texas Rangers are 2-8 after spending half a billion dollars on Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million) and Marcus Semien (seven years, $175 million) this past offseason. It seems they are taking a page out of the Angels book and going all-in on offensive stars without a congruent investment in its pitching staff. You see the early returns. The Rangers have MLB’s worst ERA at 6.24.
Reminder: the A’s spent a whopping $1.7 million on Lowrie and Stephen Vogt – who is looking more and more like a coach by the day. That figure could hike to *gasp* $2.2 million if the two veterans hit their incentives.
The Angels proved you can have the game’s two best players in the lineup but it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t get the other team out. They went out and got Noah Syndergaard this winter and he’s come out looking like an ace. This could be the year for the Angels to finally make the playoffs with Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, as they’ve finished fourth in the AL West each season since 2018.
At this point I think the Seattle Mariners could also build off their organizational momentum from last season and usurp the Houston Astros for the AL West crown in 2022, but there’s no clear-cut squad ready to run away with the division. No team is really complete.
The Astros still have a bunch of studs in the lineup (struggling studs at the moment), but any organization would be depleted by losing Carlos Correa and George Springer in consecutive offseasons. Jose Altuve hurt his hamstring Tuesday and it’s the same one that sent him to the injured list in 2019. The ‘Stros don’t have the same bite as previous years.
By no means am I saying the A’s are going to win the division. The fact I’m marveling at their bullpen’s ability to ‘hold it together’ and it’s only April 20 should give you an idea of the expectations.
This meteor could flame out at any moment, but there’s just some weird ‘it’ energy with the squad right now. Maybe even the baseball gods are tired of Fisher’s antics.
Looking ahead, the team should get some major reinforcements in the coming weeks, starting with their wave of players on COVID-19 list.
Ramón Laureano needs to sit 15 more games before he’s back from his suspension. Watching him and Pache roam around the outfielder together will be a nightly show. James Kaprielian (shoulder irritation) is set to make his second rehab start Wednesday and could be back in Oakland soon. Pitching him every five days and moving Adam Oller to a long-man role would beef up the A’s staff.
Laureano and Kaprelian are two huge pieces to this squad. Hell, Ramón looked like the best player on the squad to begin last season – and that’s when they had the Matts. I’m also expecting huge things from Kap this year, who looked like an absolute bulldog at times and had a nose to work himself out of trouble.
Everything looks like a doomsday scenario until you peer between the lines, when in reality, there are some beautiful stories are unfolding on a nightly basis. This isn’t a call for fans to put on blinders to the big-picture situation – we’ve done plenty of that and have plenty more time to groan about civics – but damn, are the A’s playing some exciting baseball right now.
Sometimes, that’s more healthy to focus on than the spinning hamster wheel of the American sports ownership-fan investment power structure debate.