A’s sweep Cleveland, surge into second half

The Oakland offense handed Sean Manaea an early lead, scoring four in the bottom of the first. The big lefty embraced the advantage, leading the Athletics to Sunday’s 7-3 throttling of Cleveland.

Manaea (W, 8-5, 3.68 ERA), who posted a 2.67 ERA after the All-Star break a season ago, opened the second half of his sophomore campaign with his best slider of the season. With it, he continued his ownage over Cleveland (47-43), as the A’s (42-50) matched their franchise record for consecutive wins to begin the second half — three — sweeping the reigning AL pennant winners.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

This victory came on the heels of a sour morning for the A’s, bidding farewell to Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, who were traded. Manager Bob Melvin said that overcoming that adversity began with the work of his starter:

“Sean Manaea had a lot to do with that. We leaned on him a little bit harder — which we probably will with some our starters — and he’s a guy that’s up for that now and had matured into that role.”

He did add, though, that getting early runs played a key role as well:

“Overall, I think the runs early were big for us. Whenever you say goodbye to a couple guys like that, there is certainly some sentiment that runs through the clubhouse.”

Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer entered the game allowing a .342 on-base percentage (sixth-highest in the AL) and 1.47 WHIP (ninth-highest in the AL), both metrics took a hit in the first.

After surrendering a single to Matt Joyce opening his afternoon, Bauer (L, 7-8, 5.59 ERA) walked Marcus Semien. He finally did get Yonder Alonso on strikes, but it took eight pitches, pushing his count for the inning to 17. Nine pitches later he had walked Khris Davis but struck out Jed Lowrie, putting himself on the cusp of a great escape.

Ryon Healy didn’t let that happen, though, driving an 0-2 fastball away to right-center for a two-run single. Matt Chapman, who entered with extra-base hits in each of his last four at-bats, walked to end his own seven-pitch battle preceding a Jaycob Brugman seven-pitch single the other way, chasing home two and ushering Bauer into an early departure.

Brugman, making his first start of the second half after dealing with illness — losing more than four pounds in two days — said it took each of the seven pitches to find his timing. He added:

“It’s great to have a good start in the second half. It’s great to sweep a team, bottom line. It just shows you what we’re going to bring in the second half.”

Reliever Dan Otero quickly ended the rally, coaxing a fly-out from Josh Phegley, but Bauer had already zapped the Cleveland dugout, needing 43 pitches to get just two outs and forcing the bullpen to eat 7-1/3 under the Oakland sun.

Manaea did much better dealing with the 90-degree East Bay day, battling through 7 innings on a major league career-high 115 pitches. The A’s leader in wins and strikeouts held Cleveland to five hits and two runs, whiffing eight to raise his season total to 101.

The “Thrown’ Samoan” has now faced Cleveland three times in his career, allowing 11 hits and four runs while striking out 25 over 21 innings.

Including Sunday, Manaea has now allowed 11 earned runs in 33 innings over his last five strikeouts. Melvin said a key to that success has been the emergence of the hurler’s slider:

“His slider has a lot to do with how he’s doing right now. (He) was more fastball-changeup — and mix in some sliders — to where it was 50-50, and now that third pitch … he’s got three plus-pitches that can make you swing and miss. I think the slider has been big for him.”

Manaea concurred:

“Today was the best game I’ve had with my slider. I’m finally starting to feel comfortable it — being able to throw it for strikes, being able to throw it 3-2, getting swinging strike on it.”

When Cleveland did mount rallies, they came thanks in large part to All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor, who rebounded from his 1-for-8 performance in the first two games of the series with a 4-for-4 outburst including three doubles. Only one of those rallies bore fruit, though. Following a Lindor double in the fourth, Michael Brantley slapped a single to center scoring a pair.

Serving almost as Manaea’s confirmation in the ace role, Melvin didn’t even consider pulling the 25-year-old with two down and runners at the corners, following a walk, 111 pitches into the starter’s afternoon in the seventh. Instead, the skipper held back on his normally quick trigger, letting the lefty take on the right-handed-swinging Brandon Guyer. The result was an inning-ending strikeout on four pitches, and an emotional fist pump from Manaea, who said:

“I was really excited. I knew my pitch-count had been up … I knew he was my last guy, so I left everything out there.”

Joyce did his best to match Lindor’s production, tallying three hits and two RBIs, while Lowrie added a solo homer (10) and Chapman continues his burst smoking a double off the top of 15 foot-high wall in left-center.

The most inspiring aspect of the A’s sweep came in form of their bullpen dominance. Tossing 8 innings combined surrendering a single run, the Oakland relief corps out-performed Cleveland’s MLB-best ‘pen, which allowed five runs in 9-2/3 frames

On deck

The A’s look to build on the momentum of their second half-opening sweep of the defending AL champs when they host the Tampa Bay Rays (49-43) for three. The two teams previously met in Tampa in early June. The Rays claimed a 3-1 series victory.

Notes

Prior to the game the A’s traded relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Washington Nationals in exchange for former A’s farmhand Blake Treinen and a pair of minor league prospects. Doolittle (1-0, 3.38 ERA) had been the longest-tenured Athletic, having spent his first six big league seasons in Oakland. Madson (2-4, 2.06 ERA) was the primary closer, saving 30 games with the A’s in 2016, his first season with the club. Treinen (0-2, 5.73 ERA), the A’s seventh-round selection in the 2011 draft, has spent the past four seasons with the Nationals. His best season came in 2016, when he finished 4-1 with a 2.28 ERA and a 1.224 WHIP. In addition to Treinen, the A’s received Washington’s No.s 8 and 9 prospects, according to Fangraphs, infielder Sheldon Neuse and left-handed pitcher Jesus Luzardo. Neuse, a 22-year-old 2016 second-round selection, is slashing /.291/.349/.469 in 77 games with Single-A Hagerstown. Luzardo, a 19-year-old 2016 third-round selection, is 1-0 with a 1.32 ERA through three games in the Gulf Coast League (rookie ball).


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.