On Thursday night, the Oakland Athletics made an early statement for the season—They may be a fun team, but they need to be taken seriously. By completing a three-game sweep of the supposedly dangerous Los Angeles Angels, the A’s have made it clear that 2012’s magical division title was not as much fortuitous as it was for real.
The A’s beat the Angels thrice on the road, extending their win streak to eight games. Yes, it’s still early in the year, but one thing’s for certain—Oakland is as good of a team as any right now in the American League. As the A’s head home from sunny Southern California, here’s five things we learned from their series against the Angels.
It’s almost surreal to watch the Athletics put up these gaudy offensive numbers. Particularly without a bona fide superstar leading the way. But for a team that in recent years languished toward the bottom of the league in key offensive categories including runs scored, batting average and OPS, it’s almost unfathomable to see them atop the leaderboard in nearly every statistical measure.
Through Thursday’s game, Oakland ranks first in runs scored (66), hits (103), home runs (18), doubles (26), extra-base hits (45), slugging percentage (.524) and OPS (.892). In all of baseball. And it’s not as though they’re just mashing and bashing the scoreboard into oblivion. They currently lead the American League in bases on balls (39) and stolen bases (eight).
The A’s are on fire—You name a category, they’re dominating it. And against the Angels, Oakland’s bats only got hotter.
In the series, the Athletics scored 28 runs and hammered out 44 hits, 17 of which went for extra bases including six home runs. Against a starting rotation that was intended to be a formidable force, the Athletics completely battered the Angels’ pitching staff. Every A’s hitter seemed to contribute in some way. Oakland was retired in order in only three of the 27 innings.
It’s only the first couple of weeks, but the Athletics are doing something nobody expected them to, and that is have a dominating offense to go along with their dominating pitching. With a combination like that, they are simply unbeatable.
While A’s hitters were coming up big in seemingly each and every at-bat, the Angels were coming up empty. It was that absence of clutch that was the difference in the series.
It wasn’t as if the Angels were completely stymied throughout the three games. Los Angeles banged out 32 hits against the A’s pitching, 27 of which were in the first two games. However, Angels hitters were a mere 5-for-34 with runners in scoring position, leading to only 11 runs scored. Not exactly what was anticipated from a lineup that features the likes of reigning Rookie of the Year Mike Trout, future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols and former MVP Josh Hamilton.
While much of the brunt of criticism will fall upon the shoulders of the offense, the Los Angeles pitching staff doesn’t deserve any kudos either. In the series opener, the bullpen could not hold a late lead, as the A’s scored five runs one half inning after the Angels took the lead. Game 2 was a slugfest early; but after the Angels cut Oakland’s lead to 5-4 after five innings, they promptly gave up another five-spot in the sixth and the A’s never looked back. In the finale, with the score tied at 1-1 through five innings, Angels starter Jason Vargas gave up four runs that put the game away for Oakland. In each game, Los Angeles pitchers gave up a big inning that ultimately led to the team’s demise.
Make no mistake—the A’s thoroughly dismantled Los Angeles offensively. But the Angels’ inability to come up with key base hits at the right time and shut down the opponent when they needed to were the difference in the series. Ultimately, they proved they were not clutch enough when it mattered.
When Athletics right fielder Josh Reddick went down in last Sunday’s game against the Houston Astros, he sprained his right wrist slamming into the wall in foul territory. He was unable to play during the Angels series, thereby leaving the A’s without their top home run hitter from a season ago.
What Oakland didn’t realize, however, was that the team would actually miss his Gold Glove defense more than his bat.
The A’s opted to plug Chris Young in right field in Reddick’s stead. While it may have seemed like not too big of a transition, Young did not have a great series defensively. In Tuesday’s game, Young committed a fielding error and misread two Angels base hits that turned into triples. It was truly a demonstration of the difficulty in playing the corner outfield after having been a center fielder for his whole MLB career.
In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t seem like that big of a deal to see a couple of miscues in the outfield. However, Young’s misplays almost cost Oakland the game. In a back-and-forth battle, the team who makes the fewest mistakes, both physical and mental, tends to prevail. Fortunately for the A’s, they were able to overcome Young’s lapses. Still, the erroneous play shows how important it is to have solid defense in the field, and it is a validation for how valuable it is to have Reddick manning right field.
For the sake of the team, Reddick needs to get well soon.
Though the A’s won the first two games of the series pretty handily, their own starting pitchers were not sharp. Jarrod Parker and Tommy Millone combined to give up six runs on 16 hits and six walks in 8.1 innings. It was an ugly display by both starters: Parker did not last four innings on Tuesday, while Millone was on the verge of being knocked out of the fifth inning of his start.
Oakland was fortunate to have won the first two games, based solely on their offensive prowess.
To make matter worse, the Athletics’ bullpen was somewhat taxed after two games. Six relievers made an appearance in Tuesday’s game; four appeared in Wednesday’s. Thus, it was imperative that Thursday’s starter, A.J. Griffin, go as deep as possible to provide the relievers some relief.
Boy, did he deliver.
In just his 17th Major League start, the sophomore right-hander went eight innings, allowing just one run and five hits. It was a brilliant performance that was as impressive as it was necessary after the A’s bullpen had gone 9.2 innings the previous two nights.
Griffin is quickly making a name for himself, and there was no team better to build a reputation against than the rival Angels. Through two starts this season, Griffin is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA. He isn’t blowing hitters away, he’s just dominating them. And to hold a lineup like Los Angeles’ to just one run is a sign he could be a staff ace.
There aren’t many teams out there that hold closed-door meetings eight games into the season. Then again, there aren’t many ball clubs that have a $142 million payroll featuring two former league MVPs (Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton), an all-world Rookie of the Year (Mike Trout), and a three-time (Jered Weaver) and a two-time All-Star starting pitcher (C.J. Wilson). There are some lofty expectations in Anaheim.
After the team flattened out in 2012, missing the playoffs altogether despite two of the biggest free-agent acquisitions in Pujos and Wilson, the Angels have avowed to live up to their talent level.
But so far this season, they are in fact worse than they were last year.
With this week’s sweep at the hands of the Athletics, the Angels are in dead last (behind the Astros!) in the American League West with a 2-7 record. They entered the three-game set in more dire straits, having learned that Weaver, their staff ace, would be out at least four weeks after suffering a broken elbow on Sunday.
That accelerated the urgency of this series against the A’s. Yes, it’s only April, but the Angels couldn’t have the Athletics waltz into Anaheim and win the series. Instead, Oakland took all three games and now sit 5.5 games ahead of Los Angeles in the West. It might only get worse.
That’s why they held a special team meeting ahead of Thursday’s contest versus the A’s. The Angels were (are) in such a daze, they tinkered with the lineup, moving Trout from the leadoff spot to the two-hole, trying to energize the offense.
It didn’t work. The A’s won the game 8-1, and Trout went 0-for-4.
The point is that this early in the season, the free-spirited—and successful—play of the Athletics has gotten into the Angels’ heads. It can’t be a good sign that Los Angeles is frustrated to the point of holding meetings to make on-field adjustments. Maybe it will be the start of them living up to expectations. Or, it could be the beginning of another long and lonely season for the Southern California rivals.
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