CLEVELAND -- Going through a rebuilding season in which they are looking to identify players who will help them win beyond 2023, the A’s might have two of their brightest discoveries sitting atop their starting lineup.
Before the A’s succumbed to a late-inning rally in a heartbreaking 7-6 loss to the Guardians at Progressive Field on Wednesday night, rookies Esteury Ruiz and Ryan Noda sparked the offense with a performance that encapsulates just why the two have entrenched themselves as Nos. 1 and 2 in Oakland’s batting order.
The rookie duo was responsible for most of the offense. Ruiz went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and electrified with a pair of stolen bases, bringing his Major League-leading total to 39. Noda packed the punch with a three-run homer off Guardians top pitching prospect Gavin Williams in the third.
“These two young guys, you look at their numbers, and they’re good,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “They continue to do what they’ve done for the majority of the year. Ruiz with a couple of big hits tonight with runners in scoring position. Getting on base and stealing bases. For Noda, a big three-run homer with men in scoring position, which we continue to talk about the importance of. It’s a good sign for both.”
The placement of Ruiz and Noda back-to-back at the top of the lineup truly feels like a perfect match. Whenever Ruiz gets on base, Noda’s ultra-patient approach at the plate -- evidenced by his 49 walks and .390 on-base percentage, both of which lead all qualified rookies in the Majors -- affords plenty of opportunity for the center fielder to swipe a bag.
Sometimes, like Wednesday’s third inning, the A’s get the best of both worlds. Ruiz knocked home Oakland’s first run with a single to left. With Noda following him at the plate, Ruiz swiped second before the first baseman swatted a 2-2 curveball into the right-field seats for his eighth home run of the year.
“Any time Ruiz gets on base, it’s just fun to watch him run,” said A’s starter Paul Blackburn, who took a no-decision after allowing four runs on nine hits and a walk with seven strikeouts over five innings. “He’s always wanting to learn. Noda as well. You don’t see many guys with 250 career [big league] at-bats or so that can control a strike zone the way that he does. It’s just fun to watch. The rest of our offense kind of feeds off those guys at the top of the lineup when they’re on base and making things happen.”
Both players whom the A’s front office kept tabs on even before last season for their stellar performance throughout the Minors, the two have joined forces in the big leagues with Oakland and continue to provide hope for the future. Ruiz remains one of the most clutch hitters in baseball, with his .406 batting average with runners in scoring position, now sixth-highest in the Majors. Noda's 49 walks are tied with Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman for most by any AL hitter.
“It starts with him,” Noda said of Ruiz. “He’s the lighter. I just try to feed off what he does. Today, he had a really good game. I know once he gets on that he’s going to make things happen. He makes my job a lot easier. I go when he goes, and vice versa.”
The continued emergence of Ruiz and Noda should have been the story of the night. Instead, the A’s extended their losing streak to seven games -- a stretch that includes five one-run contests -- with yet another painful one-run loss.
Entering the bottom of the eighth holding a 6-5 lead, Austin Pruitt surrendered a game-tying RBI double to Steven Kwan, with an errant throw from Ramón Laureano in right field allowing the go-ahead run to score.
A frustrating top of the ninth included Aledmys Díaz getting called out on an automatic strike three due to a pitch timer violation before Seth Brown flew out against Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase, stranding the potential game-tying and go-ahead runs on second and third.
“It’s a bunch of one-run games,” Blackburn said. “One bounce our way, and we’re on top in half of those games. I still feel like we’re playing good ball right now still. It’s just the one-run games, when you lose those, they hurt a little bit more.”