OAKLAND -- The stakes aren’t as high for the A’s as they are with games against division rivals like the Astros, but a three-game series against a rebuilding club like the Orioles is one that bears a certain amount of significance when determining whether or not they return to the postseason in 2019.
With history on their side as a club that usually goes on strong second-half runs, the A’s must close out the first half by handling their business against teams like the O's, who entered the day losers of seven straight. On the strength of a solid outing from Chris Bassitt and a late offensive outburst, Oakland did just that in Wednesday’s 8-3 win at the Coliseum to complete a three-game sweep of Baltimore.
“We’d like to be able to sustain this,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We had the one 10-game win streak where we hit on all cylinders and then couldn’t follow it up. We have to sustain it. We’ve been on runs before with this group, so I know these guys are looking forward to get as many games over .500 as they can.”
The long ball has been built into the Athletics’ DNA over the past few years. When balls are leaving the park at a high rate, that’s usually when the A’s are at their best. Josh Phegley provided the big blast on Wednesday with a three-run homer off Orioles reliever Josh Rogers.
The home run came in the fifth to give Oakland a three-run cushion at a point where it needed some type of spark with only one hit through the first four innings.
“Early on, it looked like we just didn’t have anything going,” Melvin said. “There wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm, and then next thing you know, we have three runs. That was a big pick-me-up.”
Phegley’s homer was the 65th hit by the A’s since May 13, second most behind the Twins (67) over that time. It’s no coincidence that the power surge has translated to wins -- they are also 20-13 over that stretch. Oakland's propensity to score a barrage of runs comes from a lineup that top to bottom can strike at any time. Look no further than Phegley, who now leads the club with 41 RBIs with most of his time coming at the bottom of the order.
“You ask anyone in this clubhouse, we take pride in our entire lineup being potent and being able to score runs and put pressure on the defense,” Phegley said. “Our lineup moves around a little bit, but we don’t really take stock in where our spots are. We just know the guys that are in there are going to do well.”
Melvin has stressed the importance of establishing more consistency after an up-and-down first month and a half, and his club appears to be heading in that direction, now three games over .500 as it finished off its first sweep since May 24-26 against the Mariners during its season-high 10-game winning streak.
Bassitt flirts with a no-no
Entering the day frustrated by a recent increase in walks that led to a 5.88 ERA over his previous five starts, Bassitt got things back on track as he carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Jonathan Villar broke it up with a one-out single. The right-hander finished the day allowing just two runs on two hits and three walks, striking out six batters over 5 2/3 innings to pick up his fourth win of the year.
What changed for Bassitt? As bizarre as it may sound, he said the turning point came during a meeting with pitching coach Scott Emerson earlier this week when he made the decision to not worry about throwing strikes.
“I’m not a strike thrower,” Bassitt said. “I tried to be a strike thrower for two or three outings, and it’s more just, whatever you have on your fastball or slider or changeup, just throw the crap out of it and try to make them hit your nasty stuff.”
Bassitt referenced teammate Brett Anderson, pointing out his ability to command the strike zone with supreme location. Bassitt is not that type of guy. He said he’s at his best when he just revs up his fastball, which reached as high as 96 mph on Wednesday, and lets it fly.
“There’s guys that can nibble corners. I can’t do that,” Bassitt said. “I’m just trying to throw a fastball by you 80 times a game and then everything else after that.”
The way the A’s starting rotation has been going lately, Bassitt was just the latest in a string of strong performances. Since May 13, the 3.68 ERA compiled by Oakland’s starters is fourth best among AL pitching staffs over that time.
“The offense is clicking and it makes starting a lot easier when you know you have a lot of runs coming for you,” Bassitt said. “I think it’s definitely a build thing where it’s like pass the baton and keep pushing each other.”
The A’s finish off a 10-game homestand by welcoming the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday to begin a four-game series. It will be the second series between the two clubs this month -- Oakland took two of three games in St. Petersburg on June 10-12. With the competition expected to be a little tougher against a club the A’s could be competing with for a playoff spot, they’ll look to carry the momentum from the sweep of Baltimore.
“I feel like this was a confidence builder,” Phegley said. “We’re going to hit, and I feel like some guys got on a roll and broke out of slumps. We’re just going to keep rolling with that.”
Marcus Semien continued his roll on Wednesday with a single to push his career-best hitting streak to 16 games, tied with Christian Yelich for the longest active streak in MLB.