Importantly, this short series was a showcase of the two best teams in all of baseball over the past year. Oakland and Cincinnati have the top two records in in MLB since last July 1st. The A’s are 103-60 over that time; the Reds are 99-65, best in the National League. Thus, it’s not overreaching to say that this was an important test for both teams.
For the Athletics to walk away with two victories against the Reds—a team with a winning record—means quite a bit. Including Wednesday’s victory, Oakland owns a 14-17 record against teams that currently have above-.500 records. Much has been said about the A’s beating up on the lesser teams in baseball, while not living up to expectations against winning ball clubs.
For Oakland, sweeping the Reds is indeed a statement. No, it’s not an exclamation; but it still says something about the A’s as a team. They can run with the big boys. And they can beat them.
What this means in the long run, who knows? Right now, the Athletics can boast they beat one of the NL’s top teams. That’s got to count for something. Let’s take a look at five standout moments from the Athletics’ series against Cincinnati.
One of the weaknesses of the Athletics during their recent 2-5 road trip was the performance of the otherwise stingy bullpen. Oakland’s relievers took accounted for four of the team’s five losses. Maybe all it took was Monday’s off day, but the A’s relief corps looked sharp in general and stingier when they needed to be.
In Tuesday’s 7-3 victory, Oakland used five relievers, combining for 4.1 shutout innings following starter Tommy Milone’s early exit. Overall, they did well as a unit. Individually, they were magicians, with Pat Neshek wriggling out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth; Jerry Blevins inheriting two runners but not allowing any of them to score; and Sean Doolittle throwing a shutout inning despite allowing two baserunners.
No, the bullpen was not blatantly lights-out. But the A’s relievers did their job and shut the door on a Cincinnati offense that came into town having scored third-most runs in the NL. Impressive is as impressive does.
Oakland can’t expect its relievers to be dominant all season. But it’s a good sign that the relievers are showing signs of climbing out of their collective funk for the time being.
Speaking of funks, maybe A’s right fielder Josh Reddick is out of his yearlong slumber. Though he still has some sleepy sand in the corner of his eyes, toting an overall .218 batting average, he continues to wake up from his early-season sleep-walk that saw him bottom out a .102 as late as April 20th. He finished April with a cold .139 average but has s-l-o-w-l-y climbed his way back upward, with the Mendoza line looking smaller and smaller in his rearview mirror.
He finished the Cincinnati series only 2-for-8, but he extended his hitting streak to six games, and now has hit safely in 11 of his last 13 contests. For the month of June, Reddick is hitting .288, hitting in the lower third of the batting order throughout. While his power numbers are still below last year’s Reddick-ulous standard, his simpler approach has allowed him to reach base more efficiently, and the result is his batting average creeping its way toward respectability.
If the A’s can get Reddick to continue warming up, it will provide a more meaningful threat up and down the lineup. Particularly during the games in which he is slotted behind Josh Donaldson in the batting order.
Despite Josh Reddick “protecting” Josh Donaldson, Cincinnati didn’t exactly pitch around Donaldson. The A’s third baseman took advantage, smacking two home runs in two games against the Reds, upping his season total to 12.
Though he has had a tremendous 2013 campaign already, Donaldson’s home run total has been somewhat modest. He entered the Cincinnati having hit only one more home run than Coco Crisp. That’s not nitpicking, per se. It speaks more to the lofty potential that Donaldson carries with him. Nobody’s complaining that he isn’t hitting enough home runs. It’s just that everyone knows he can hit more. Apparently, all it takes is some NL pitching to get Donaldson’s bat going.
For the season, the 27-year-old is hitting .428 with three home runs during interleague play. Good thing for Oakland, the St. Louis Cardinals come into town for a three-game starting Friday night. Expect to see some more fireworks this weekend from Donaldson.
For a team that has already had 37 different players suit up in green and gold this season, it’s not surprising that the A’s welcomed another new face to the big leagues this week. That’s nearly one call-up per week. And on Tuesday, it was Stephen Vogt’s turn to join the Athletics.
Vogt is a typical A’s player: a 28-year-old minor-league journeyman with 18 games played in the majors—all with Tampa Bay—to his credit. The left-handed hitting catcher was called up from Triple-A Sacramento to a) spell an injured John Jason (left hand abrasion), and b) see what he can do. Obviously. After all, Vogt was hitting .325 with nine home runs and 43 runs driven in with the River Cats. Why not see how he performs?
Well, he went 0-for-6 during the Cincinnati series, and is still looking for his first MLB hit. But he did drive in a run on Tuesday with a sacrifice fly; and on Wednesday, he called a magnificent game during Oakland’s 5-0 victory. So, it wasn’t all bad.
Wow. That’s the first word that comes to mind when describing Wednesday’s 5-0 win. The victory was A.J. Griffin’s first career complete game and shutout in his short career. He allowed only two hits and two walks while striking out seven. And he finished strong, retiring 12 of the last 13 batters he faced.
It’s a meaningful step for the young righty, who has shown inconsistency throughout the season. Griffin halted a personal three-game skid and evened his overall record to 6-6.
Because of the youthfulness of the A’s starting staff, and the strength of the team’s bullpen, manager Bob Melvin often doesn’t let his starters finish ballgames, opting instead to preserve their arms. Oakland’s two previous complete games this season were thrown by the old-timer Bartolo Colon—one of which was a rain-shortened seven-inning contest. Last season, the A’s had only one complete game.
To see Melvin let Griffin finish the game speaks to the confidence he has in his young starters as much as it does to the progress and maturity those pitchers are developing along the way. Griffin’s shutout was a brilliant display of lights-out pitching that served more purposes than just relieving Oakland’s relievers. It also showed that the youngsters are ready to the distance. For one game, and for an entire winning season.
Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue