Inside Pitch: Olson outshines Hoskins, helps A’s win roadie

Matt Olson stomped into Philadelphia, where first-year slugger Rhys Hoskins has drawn the attention of the baseball world, and put on a power display that would not go unnoticed.

Olson entered the series having homered 14 times since becoming the everyday first baseman on Aug. 11, topped only by Hoskins, who has garnered far more national spotlight with 18, among rookies in that stretch. He may not have chased down the Phillies‘ first baseman, but Olson launched a trio of bombs — totaling 1,284 feet, according to Home Run Tracker — in the Athletics‘ 2-1 weekend series victory, Oakland’s fourth road series win this season.

The A’s (66-83) mashed seven homers as a team in Philadelphia and two more, including one from Olson, in Boston, riding to a 3-3 record through the first six games of their current nine-game road trip. But it wasn’t the power that stole the show for the A’s in Philly, quite the contrary actually.

Changeup: Mengden shuts ’em down

If you drew Daniel Mengden in your office who-gets-the-A’s-first-complete game pool, you were likely disappointed. But hopefully you didn’t toss your ticket.

Making his fourth big league start of the season, the mustached Mengden (1-1, 4.30 ERA) utterly discombobulated the Phillies, earning Oakland’s first “CG.” The two-hit shutout complete with zero walks and seven strikeouts, far and away the A’s best starting effort of the campaign, was its first complete game since Kendall Graveman tossed a two-hit gem at the Chicago White Sox in August — of last season.

Furthermore, he was only the second Oakland starter this month to get an out in the seventh — joining Sean Manaea, who lasted 6-2/3 on Sept. 1 — and first since Graveman (Aug. 25) to finish the seventh.

Since early exits in his first two major league starts of the season — 3-1/3 innings, five runs allowed, on May 29 and 4-2/3 innings, four runs allowed on June 3 — Mengden has surrendered three tallies (two earned) in 15 innings of work over his past three starts. And he has needed this run to remain relevant in a franchise that has received big league contributions from young starters Daniel Gossett and Paul Blackburn, and has A.J. Puk rising through the ranks.

If Mengden can continue this run through September, he and his old-fashioned windup will solidify a spot in the rotation come Spring Training.

Fastball: “Thumpin’ A’s”

Even with Mengden’s impressive outing, the result would not have been there had it not been for a pair of two-run homers.

The punch was provided by Matt Joyce (24) and Olson, who joined the A’s 20-home run club with his second of three in the set. Including Yonder Alonso, who has since been traded to the Seattle Mariners , Oakland is home to five players with 20-plus bombs, second only to the Baltimore Orioles‘ seven among all American League clubs.

While Khris Davis‘ 39 is tops on the team, and is second-most in the AL, Olson has successfully stolen his shine of late. Averaging a homer per every 8.0 at-bats this year, the 6-foot-5 first baseman’s rate would be enough to lead the AL had he accrued a sufficient number of trips to the plate — Joey Gallo (38) currently leads the league with one to every 10.8 at-bats.

Ryon Healy (25) rounds out the list with Chad Pinder (15) and Matt Chapman (12) within a hot stretch of striking distance.

The A’s 217 team home runs are enough for fifth-most in MLB and just two per game away from tying the franchise record of 243, set in 1996.

Curveball: An ages-old house of horrors

Manaea endured the worst start of his rookie season a year ago in Boston, where the Red Sox tagged him for 10 hits and eight runs in just 2-2/3 innings of work.

Attempting to work his way out of a recent slump, Manaea entered his first start at Fenway Park since having earned three quality starts in his previous four. And, once again, he was crushed. The second-year south paw surrendered 11 hits and seven runs before he was lifted with two down in the fourth.

It was undoubtedly a concern in the Oakland dugout, which was likely worried their young hurler had regressed to a troublesome stretch in which he coughed up 13 earnies in 6-2/3 spanning three starts. He recovered, though, picking up his team-leading 11th win, pitching around two errors to hold Philadelphia to a single run in 5 frames on Sunday.

Boston and “The Fens” has now become a mental hurdle for the 25-year-old. With the Red Sox appearing destined for a continued postseason presence, and the A’s hoping to reach that level, Manaea’s teammates will need him to clear that hurdle before any future October trip down the Mass Pike.

Sinker: The whiffs keep comin’

In their most recent home stand, the 2017 A’s became the first in franchise history to strike out 1,300 times — the previous record was 1,226 in 2008.

This week, they went down 67 more times. In six games. More than 11 times per game.

Somehow still the third-most strikeout prone team — Milwaukee (1,454) and Tampa Bay (1,446) — Oakland has put 1,500, even 1,600, very much in play. Davis (187) is 10 shy of tying the franchise player record for strikeouts — Jack Cust (197, 2008). But, as previously mentioned, this could become the most prolific home run hitting group in the history of a franchise lauded for its powerful past, and Davis is one homer from posting that franchise’s first back-to-back 40-home run seasons since the early-1930s.

Slider: Pinder the top “Kulprit”

Baseball is a game in which the best players fail seven out of 10 times, but Pinder failed to give himself a chance in six out of 10.

Pinder went down on strikes 12 times in 20 at-bats, tied for second-most in the game. But even he had a positive impact on the A’s first winning road series since the team’s first road trip of August, slugging a solo homer in Sunday’s comeback win.

Oakland has embodied baseball’s modern philosophy of power for whiffs and Pinder, as much as any Athletic not name Olson, has taken on that mantle.

Pitch-out: Final home stand

After three games against the Tigers (62-87) in Detroit, the A’s return to Oakland for the final time in 2017 to host the Texas Rangers (73-76) and Mariners (74-76).

With six of their final 12 games of the season against the AL West’s fourth-place Rangers, the fifth-place A’s could potentially climb out of the divisional cellar snapping the franchise’s first back-to-back last-place finishes.

Oakland has gone 14-17 in prior meetings with the three season-ending opponents this season, including a 6-6 mark, bolstered by a three-game sweep in August, against Texas.

 


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.