The two teams totaled only 17 runs over four games
The Oakland A’s went on the road to visit the defending AL champions for four games, and they emerged with a series split. Success!
The A’s won their finale over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday, and for the fourth straight day it was a tight margin. Oakland’s 3-2 victory raised the total series run differential to just 9-8 in favor of the Rays, as nobody ever put up more than four in a day or triumphed by more than two. These were two excellent teams locked in an even battle.
At times today the A’s couldn’t get out of their own way, but they flexed enough talent to win by pure brute force. Their rally in the 3rd inning included two runners being thrown out on the basepaths, limiting the output to just one run. Meanwhile, starting pitcher Chris Bassitt pegged three batters, with one of those free runners coming around to score.
But Oakland hung tight amid those miscues, and then Matt Chapman powered them the rest of the way. The star third baseman has been mired in an awful slump to begin the season, and the eyeball test hasn’t been any kinder than the numbers in the box score, but he’s been working hard and it showed today.
In the 4th inning, with the score tied, he homered to give the A’s the lead.
The Rays came back to tie it with their own solo dinger, and the score held at 2-2 until the 9th. Oakland got Jed Lowrie to first base but needed at least one more hit to cash in, and with two outs Chapman stepped up and delivered. His 106.7 mph blast stayed in the park this time, but the right fielder couldn’t corral it, and it bounced around plenty long enough for Lowrie to score from first with the go-ahead run.
Twice Chapman gave his team the lead with an extra-base smash, once to left and once to right. His wRC+ is up to 101, though his average and strikeout rates still look ugly. Gotta start somewhere, and this was a most encouraging day for him.
When keeping it aggressive goes wrong
The A’s have been extremely aggressive on the basepaths this season. It’s been wonderful to watch, and it’s mostly worked out well, but today we saw the downside of the gamble.
Oakland’s lineup had a tough task in Rays starter Shane McClanahan. The lefty is a national Top 100 prospect, and last fall he became the first pitcher in history and just the fifth player overall to make his MLB debut in the postseason. Now he was up to make his first career regular season appearance, and you could immediately see how he’ll be a problem for the rest of the league in the near future.
McClanahan can hit triple-digits with wicked movement, with a slider and changeup that each went as high as 93, and his first time through the order produced four strikeouts and a popout.
At 101 mph.
— Brodie Brazil (@BrodieNBCS) April 29, 2021
But the A’s got a read on him the second time through and began connecting with a parade of hard contact. Tony Kemp singled despite the platoon disadvantage, and he moved to second on a wild pitch. Mark Canha hit an even sharper single and Kemp was waved around, but the right fielder fired a strike to the plate to nail him.
Personally, I liked the decision to send Kemp. The out required a perfect throw, forcing the opponent to make a play, and this time they made it. More often they probably won’t, and indeed the same right fielder made a way worse throw later in the afternoon on Chapman’s double. This gamble was definitely worth it, even though it didn’t work out for Oakland.
The next out on the bases was far more frustrating. Ramon Laureano doubled down the line to score Canha, guaranteeing the A’s at least got one run out of the rally. Then Lowrie worked a 3-2 count, and with the pressure mounting on every pitch … Laureano broke for third too early and got picked off. Womp womp.
I’m a big fan of Laureano’s aggressive hustle on the bases, but this just wasn’t the time. They had a rookie starter on the ropes in basically his MLB debut, after three straight blasts at high exit velocity, and in the box was their toughest veteran professional hitter waiting on a 3-2 payoff pitch. For goodness sake, just hold at second for one moment and let Lowrie take a swing.
But hey, that’s one nitpick amid a productive game for Laureano, who drove in that key run and also made a couple nice catcher in CF. And the message certainly isn’t for him to slow down, rather a reminder that sometimes full speed ahead isn’t actually the best route.
️ RAMÓN LAUREANO DOING RAMÓN LAUREANO THINGS pic.twitter.com/X0DO3YOgFc
— Oakland A’s (@Athletics) April 29, 2021
Fortunately, the momentum shift didn’t make any difference. In the next inning, Chapman smoked a 103.9 mph rocket for a 382-foot dinger. All in all, McClanahan didn’t win his first start, nor even go five frames, but he sure gave us something to be nervous about for next time Oakland faced the Rays.
Many more details to come, including an impressive start by Bassitt, some great defense, and a save by Lou Trivino. Keep hitting refresh!