Inside Pitch: Chapman’s defense, power offers Oakland promise

As the Athletics continue their three-year tumble down the rabbit hole of stagnation, Matt Chapman has emerged as the latest beacon of a nearing baseball wonderland.

Oakland, the game’s western address of three-peat title runs, is on the verge of its first three-peat last-place finishes — a level of despair it has never known. Now, spearheaded by Chapman, 24, Sean Manaea, 25, and Ryon Healy, 25, the future is the brightest it has been in a half-decade.

In their second full week out of the All-Star break, the A’s (46-59) rebounded from the foible of a four-game sweep, led by Chapman, a restructured bullpen and a duo of game-winning dingers.

Fastball: relief, rebound and recovery

The overall numbers may not be the sexiest, but the A’s bullpen bounced back from a horrid start to the week to be the driving force in a pair of come-from-behind walk-off wins.

In a four-game sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays, Oakland relievers spit the bit twice, blowing two saves and choking up a combined nine earned runs in 7-2/3 innings. Starters held up their end of the bargain in Toronto, but in the end were let down.

Returning home proved to be the elixir, as the same group held the Minnesota Twins to a single earnie in 17-2/3 hard-fought frames. After the starters were forced into an early departure in each of the three contests, the bullpen came on strong allowing the offense to score a combined nine unanswered runs after the top of the fifth — posting 15 scoreless in those situations.

The new group, which includes beleaguered closer Santiago Casilla in a set-up spot, new addition Blake Treinen playing an integral role and mid-July call-up Simon Castro wearing the heavy burden as the group’s human-tourniquet, has added a beacon of hope to a group that has spent all season near the bottom of the league in effectiveness.

Changeup: Chapman changing games, finding flow

Going 6-for-14 (.429) in five games, Jaycob Brugman raised his season average 20 points, he also flashed the leather with in center field. Rajai Davis continued his sizzling second half, pushing his batting average since the All-Star break to .389, adding a second walk-off homer of his 12-year career. Marcus Semien found his groove after missing 2-1/2 months, going 8-for-28 (.286) with a homer and three RBIs.

Matt Chapman‘s numbers weren’t as impressive as his teammates, but the hits he did gets came in game-altering at-bats. And he saved no less than three runs with a glove on his hand rather than a bat in it.

Of Chapman’s five hits (in 26 at-bats) on the week, two (in six at-bats) came in the eighth inning or later — he also drew a walk. And those two knocks did in fact alter the outcome of the A’s two wins. In Saturday’s 5-4 win, his solo home run set the table for a two-run Rajai walk-off. In Sunday’s 6-5 12-inning victory, a two-out two-run double in the eighth tied things up sending matters into extra innings.

As he begins to find his groove in the batter’s box, the 24-year-old rookie continues to amaze with his play in the field. He has shown a unique ability to make all plays — diving to his right; ranging to his left; navigating the spacious foul territory of the Oakland Coliseum — and, of course, his highly rated arm gives him the ability to get an out from anywhere on the field.

Curveball: A’s cash in on Gray’s trade value

Sonny Gray‘s trade to the Yankees — the first trade betwen the two organizations since 2002, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi — is far from surprising, unlike the return. After weeks of back-and-forth between the two clubs, bartering value, the A’s received New York’s No. 4, 8 and 12 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.

Oakland’s biggest add of the move was Dustin Fowler (No. 77 overall prospect), an outfielder — a pot of great need — who batted .293 with 13 homers, 43 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 70 games with Triple-Scranton before suffering a season-ending knee injury in his major league debut.

They also received shortstop-outfielder Jorge Mateo (.300/.381/.525 in 30 games with Double-A Trenton) and pitcher James Kaprielian, who has not pitched since undergoing Tommy John Surgery in April.

Un-traded, Yonder Alonso remains in the green and gold. He has expressed interest in signing a long-term deal with the A’s.

Adam Rosales, on the other hand, was traded — sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Jeferson Mejia, who is 1-1 with a 6.08 ERA in 21 games in A-ball this season.

Slider: RISP

The A’s are the American League’s least-productive team with runners in scoring position. Their .232 average in those situations is better than that of Toronto (.223), but their 253 RBIs are more than only the San Diego Padres.

Oakland has nine more hits in such clutch at-bats this season than their early week opponents from the great white north, but 20 fewer RBIs. That being said, when they did get hits in RISP trips last week that didn’t always come with runs in two. In Friday’s 6-3 loss to the Twins, the A’s went 4-for-13 (.308) — recording more hits with runners on second or third than runs scored in the game.

Overall, Oakland went an underwhelming 14-for-49 (.237) with runners in scoring position over the seven games, and scored just 23 runs (3.29 per game).

Sinker: Jed’s slump brings two-month low

Coming into the final week before the trade deadline, Jed Lowrie was among Oakland’s top trade chips. But a 3-for-21 week dropped his average below the .270-mark for the first time since May 19, and his trade value to the lowest it has been since before then.

Not only did he struggle to find hits, Lowrie was one of two A’s to take more than six at-bats and not drive in a run (Matt Joyce) and scored just one run more than only Bruce Maxwell.

Lowrie is slashing .180/.317/.280 since the All-Star break — .279/.346/.458 before.

Pitch-out: Bay Bridge series

Next up for the green and gold is a battle of baseball’s most bruised and battered. Both the A’s and San Francisco Giants limp into annual grudge-match series shells of their respective pre-season expectations. What was expected to have been a showdown between a team fighting for a .500 record and another jostling for postseason position will turn out to be a tussle involving two cellar-dwellers.

Oakland has not won the season series since 2014 (3-1), going 2-8 in the two tries since.


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.