Inside Pitch: ‘Khrush’ carries A’s to Texas sweep
With four home runs, all of which traveled over 400 feet, A’s outfielder Khris Davis stole the show in series No. 13.
On the strength of the outfielder’s powerful display the Oakland Athletics (19-22) swept away the Texas Rangers (22-19), who arrived in Oakland with a division lead. The performance gave the A’s their third series sweep of the season, the first of which to have come at home.
Along with Davis (.238/.276/.517 2016 slash), the offense was paced by third baseman Danny Valencia (.357/.393/.607). The duo combined for 10 hits in 20 at-bats, 10 runs and 12 RBIs. More noteworthy than the output from the 4-5 hitters, though, was that for the first time this season the the A’s received a quality start in each game.
Manager Bob Melvin said after Wednesday’s 8-1 victory,
“That’s a good team. They were first place when they got here, so to be able to build off the Tampa series — after what was a real tough road trip for us — the momentum kind of carried over to this series. It was good that we sustained it.”
Fastball (Team strength): Starting pitching leads the way
For all the home run potency and run production, the sweep was created in large part by the team’s best series of starting pitching. Not only was the American League’s most used bullpen (138-2/3 innings pitched) afforded a much needed rest, it entered each game protecting a lead.
In a combined 19-1/3 frames starters Sean Manaea (1-1, 7.91 ERA), Jesse Hahn (1-1, 3.38 ERA) and Rich Hill (6-3, 2.54 ERA) allowed just five runs (all earned). The sweep marks the first time this season that each A’s pitcher posted a quality start (six-plus innings, three or fewer runs allowed). Against a Rangers squad that is still the major league’s second-highest scoring offense, no less.
Changeup (Top performing individual): Davis
One series removed from a five-homer performance by Valencia (6), Davis bashed four bombs (12) against Texas.
Not only did “Khrush” continue his recent torrid pace, he chose the most tightly-contested game of the series to reach a high point. In Tuesday’s 8-5 win, Davis went deep three times — his eighth career multi-homer game, first ever three-homer game game — with the third big fly being a walk-off grand slam. With the triple-jack night, he also tied his career high of six RBIs in a game.
Davis is now tied for the AL lead in home runs, and tied for eighth in RBIs (29). He has also mashed his way to an MLB-high 32 homers since Aug. 6, 2016, as well as an MLB-high nine in May.
He also added a long sacrifice fly in Monday’s 3-1 win, the only game in which he didn’t leave the yard.
While the outfielder refuses to discuss his personal success — passing credit to his teammates — Valencia said, Wednesday, that he is in awe of Davis’ hot stretch:
“People don’t realize how hard it is, and right now he’s making it look really easy … It’s pretty special, and it’s something you can’t take for granted because you don’t see it too often.”
Curveball (Surprise of the series): Playing through injury
After placing catcher Josh Phegley (.270/.308/.324) on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, the A’s now have 11 players on the DL. Yet, even with key contributors like infielder Jed Lowrie (.302/.341/.345) and starting pitcher Chris Bassitt (0-2, 6.11 ERA) among the walking wounded, the A’s have won five of their last six.
Behind the defensive exploits of Tyler Ladendorf and re-emergence of Hahn, the A’s of the past week have embodied the idea of “next man up.” Five players who took the field during the sweep of the rangers began the season in the minor leagues.
After Wednesday’s game, Melvin spoke about his team’s perseverance in the face of adversity:
“There’s two ways to look at (all of the injuries): one, poor us. And two, now somebody else gets an opportunity… Some of the guys that weren’t here to start are now getting an opportunity, and doing well with it.”
Sinker (Team weakness): Defensive mishaps
Picking flaws from a series sweep can get a bit nitpicky. With two errors, however, the A’s do have something they can look at as needing improvement moving forward.
A pair of flubs — one apiece from Valencia and center fielder Billy Burns — on Tuesday proved to be the only team shortcoming in the sweep. While Burns’ misplay on a ground ball allowed Prince Fielder to advance to third base, from which scored on a double-play grounder, it was deemed to have not been the cause of the run.
Valencia’s error was one of effort, as he rushed a throw trying to get an out after a hard-hit grounder deflected off of his glove arm. Oakland has now commit an AL-worst 30 errors this season.
It wasn’t all bad, however, as Ladendorf, Valencia, shortstop Marcus Semien (.231/.318/.469) and even Burns put on a display of fielding range making several awe-inspiring plays.
Slider (Poor performing individual): Second-base platoon of Ladendorf and Chris Coghlan (.168/.242/.327)
In 11 combined trips to the plate, the pair got on base just once — a walk by Ladendorf on Wednesday. The walk also produced the only run they accounted for, as it came with the bases loaded in the eighth inning on Wednesday.
Being struck out six times, the duo also left six total runners on base.
Ladendorf will look to continue his stellar defensive play, while both he and Coghlan will try to capture the swings that Valencia and Davis are currently riding. They will get that chance Thursday when the green and gold host the Yankees (17-22), a squad they swept in New York, for a weekend four-game series.