Inside Pitch: Flock of seagulls preside over rising A’s fortunes
Perhaps a pair of game-changing swings have brought the winds of change for the Oakland Athletics.
The week started nowhere near as rosy as it finished for the Oakland, who were pummeled in back-to-back by the Minnesota Twins (15-14), losing by a combined 11 runs on Tuesday and Wednesday. They battled back though, and that would become the theme of the week for the club: battle.
Riding a powerful, emotional showing from slugging youngster Ryon Healy, A’s (14-17) rebounded to salvage one in Minneapolis. Then a powerful, emotional showing from Healy followed similar antics Adam Rosales. With a towering blast that cut through an East Bay mid-afternoon breeze, along a flock of seagulls, the young third baseman collected his second career walk-off hit one day after his club got the same from “Rosey.”
Fastball: ‘Heartbeat Like a Drum’
It would have been easy for the A’s to pack it in after losing nine of 10. Not for the season, or even for a month. But for a couple of weeks until they got healthy, sure.
This A’s team refused to do that, however, not only finishing a horrid road trip with an important victory, but refusing the struggling Detroit Tigers (15-15) a get-right series of their own, slapping them with a pair of sore losses.
The green and gold grit shown in their past four contests is especially impressive, considering the past two seasons have been among the toughest in the storied history of the franchise. Not only are they fighting a tough stretch, their fighting the ghosts of A’s past. Well, everyone from Jimmie Foxx to Catfish Hunter can smile.
With two games finishing in Oakland walk-off glory, the A’s accomplished the feat for the first time since July 22 and 23, 2016. Veteran Coco Crisp — of similar ilk to that of Rosales — scored the game-winning in the first of those wins. The second finished on a homer, by — Healy.
Changeup: Yonder ‘The Traveller’
Oakland first baseman Yonder Alonso is well-traveled, as largely cataloged in his Players’ Tribune Letter to My Younger Self. From La Habana, Cuba to Miami, to the University of Miami, to the Cincinnati Reds, to the San Diego Padres, before arriving in Oakland a year ago.
For Alonso, a solid defender boasting a very respectable .270/.336/.398 career slash, the problem has been his lack or power. Teams expect their first baseman to launch 20-plus bombs per season and that isn’t his game, at least it hadn’t been. In this, a contract year, Alonso has harnessed the thump matching his previous career high for homers in a season (9) on Sunday, game No. 30 of 162 (less than 1/5 of the season, for those less mathematically inclined).
With Saturday’s walk-off winner, Alonso also bashed his first career multi-homer game, keeping his club in it.
For his five-homer, 10-RBI performance, the 30-year-old was named the American League’s Player of the Week. His week included AL-highs in homers, RBIs, total bases (25), extra-base hits (6) and slugging percentage (1.136). Whether this week — this season — will play the former first-round selection right out of Oakland or not is far from being decided, but it is certainly playing him into a pay raise.
Curveball: ‘Committed’ Flock of Seagulls
On both Saturday and Sunday, a large mass of seagulls has taken to flying over the Oakland Coliseum and Rickey Henderson Field. It has not become an issue worth (yet) but it has definitely been noticed. Both Healy and manager Bob Melvin made mention of the gulls in post-game statements following Sunday’s 8-6 win — both feared the ball would hit a bird and rob Healy of the homer.
A well-documented superstitious baseball man, it is only a matter of time — and continued success — before Melvin begins scavenging the Bay Area in search of pet stores selling seagull food.
Sinker: ‘Nightmares’ on defense
The defense continues to be a weak point for Oakland.
In their 3-3 week, the A’s committed eight errors, and have now booted it a major league-worst 30 times on the season. A product of those eight errors, Oakland pitching was saddled with eight unearned runs.
Thus far in 2017, the A’s have handed their opponents 24 unearned runs, matching the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (16-17) for the most in Major League Baseball.
Slider: ‘Lost Control’
After a rough start to the season, Trevor Plouffe seized control of his struggles after April 14. The A’s lost that day, 2-7 to the Houston Astros, and Plouffe committed two errors. Since On April 15, Plouffe had not only gone error-less, but he lifted his batting average above the Mendoza-line (.200).
With an error in Saturday’s 6-5 win, Plouffe’s error-less streak ended at 13 games and his batting average is back down to .204 — it had been as high as .231 on April 25.
Pitch-out: ‘Better and Better’
Back-to-back walk-off winners is exactly the type of thing that can the momentum rolling in the right direction for Plouffe and the A’s, and they’ll need it immediately heading into another three-game set with the Angels.
Oakland has lost five of seven against their rivals from the backyard of Disneyland, including a four-game split of the season opener.
After jostling for divisional positioning with the Angels once more, the A’s go back on the road taking to Texas for the first time this season in a weekend set with the Rangers (13-19). Oakland took two of three in the only meeting of the two teams.
If the green and gold can continue the recently discovered winning ways they could potentially climb into the No. 2 spot in the AL West and back above the .500 mark for the first time in nearly 13 months.