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A’s pitching mutes Halos again in series finale

@goodforball
March 31, 2019

OAKLAND -- The A’s possess an enviable mix of the individual and the collective, as they demonstrated with Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the Angels. This contest served as a microcosm for the entire series, which the A’s captured three games to one. Though it’s far too early to form conclusions,

OAKLAND -- The A’s possess an enviable mix of the individual and the collective, as they demonstrated with Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the Angels.

This contest served as a microcosm for the entire series, which the A’s captured three games to one. Though it’s far too early to form conclusions, the A’s showed enough promise to suggest that they should at least repeat as contenders for an American League postseason berth.

The A’s continued to pitch impressively, as Frankie Montas fell one out short of becoming the fourth starter in a row to pitch six scoreless innings against the Angels.

Oakland’s offense didn’t do much, but it didn’t have to. Khris Davis maintained his dynamic presence, hitting his fourth home run to snap a scoreless tie in the fourth inning. And Matt Chapman continued his seemingly inevitable ascent toward joining the game’s elite -- though he might be at that level already -- by singling home what proved to be the winning run in the fifth inning, and making another couple of slick plays at third base.

Of these A’s attributes, the pitching is the biggest surprise. Skeptics doubted that a rotation led by Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada and Brett Anderson could be competitive. And, of course, the answer to that isn’t known yet. Still, Oakland’s staff thrived overall against the Angels, who batted .176 for the series.

“We didn't have enough spring to really think this could potentially happen,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, referring to the camp that was abbreviated due to the March 20-21 regular-season series in Tokyo against Seattle. “I don't think you ever envision, this early in the season, four guys going out and giving you results like that.”

Montas was the most impressive of the A’s starters from the vantage point of sheer stuff. His first pitch of the game registered 96.7 mph, indicating that his characteristic velocity was in working order. He also maintained command of his secondary pitches, walking none and striking out six. Kole Calhoun’s homer was Montas’ most significant lapse in his stint of six-plus innings, which ended when Justin Bour doubled leading off the seventh.

“Hitters had to worry about my fastball and slider,” Montas said. “Now they have to worry about my split-finger [fastball], too.”

As for Davis, it’s somewhat curious that opponents don’t pitch around him more often. He entered this season with the most homers in the Major Leagues during the previous three seasons (133), and his pace hasn’t slowed.

Melvin attributed Davis’ success to the quality of the A’s hitting behind him in the batting order -- the injured Matt Olson and the newly-acquired Kendrys Morales. Oakland shortstop Marcus Semien made an intriguing point.

“A lot of guys don’t know how to pitch him,” Semien said, noting that Davis hits to all fields.

Chapman can frustrate opponents just as much, since he’s capable of legging out infield singles -- as he did in the eighth inning -- when he doesn’t connect on a line drive. Sunday, he got enough of reliever Ty Buttrey’s 1-1 fastball in the fifth to drive it into left-center field and send home Semien.

Asked whether Chapman is still ascending toward the game’s group of elite players, or has reached that level after 235 Major League appearances, Semien had a ready response.

“In my eyes, he's already there,” Semien said. “A lot of people may not know, with us playing on the west coast. He's a winning player, he does the little things, he moves [baserunners ahead] and he comes up big in clutch situations like today.”

Chris Haft has covered the Major Leagues since 1991 and has worked for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @goodforball.