With 'a lot to prove,' A's show their mettle

August 5th, 2022

ANAHEIM -- Although the loss of Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino just before the Trade Deadline was certainly felt inside the clubhouse, keeping the rest of the A’s roster intact provided an energy boost for players.

Coming off an encouraging July that saw the A’s post their first winning record (14-12) over a month this season, it was a signal that the current group in Oakland will receive a chance to keep building on that positive momentum in search of a strong finish to what is a rebuilding season.

The good vibrations have carried into August. Holding on for an 8-7 victory over the Angels on Thursday afternoon at Angel Stadium, the A’s secured yet another series win by taking two of three from the Halos. Since the All-Star break, Oakland is 9-5, the second-best record in the American League behind only the Blue Jays over that stretch.

“Now that [the Trade Deadline] came and went, we’re going to miss the guys we lost,” said A’s catcher Stephen Vogt. “But [manager Mark] Kotsay said it best. He said, ‘Hey, this is who’s here. Let’s go.’ This team, we’ve got a lot to prove. There’s guys playing for a lot of different things.”

An offense that was maligned for much of the first half -- it ranked last in most statistical categories through June -- is playing to show that it’s capable of more. Shouldering the burden of that slump were , Sean Murphy and Seth Brown, each of whom has been counted on to provide the thump in the middle of the A’s order.

Over the past month or so, those three have started performing up to their standards. The trio certainly provided a lift on Thursday. After back-to-back two-run doubles by Laureano and Murphy in the third inning, the six-run frame was capped by Brown’s booming two-run homer into the right-field seats.

“They’re all professional hitters,” Kotsay said of the trio. “They’ve got some experience. I like to talk about track record a little bit. All three of them are trending in the right direction to be somewhere near what they’ve done in the past.”

Brown reached base in all five of his plate appearances. Laureano completed a four-RBI performance with a two-run homer in the fourth, continuing what has been a power surge for the A’s dating back to mid-July. Since July 11, Oakland’s 31 home runs over 20 games are second in the Major Leagues, trailing only Aaron Judge and the rest of the high-powered Yankees. It’s a stark contrast from the 54 homers the A’s put up through the first 78 games of 2022.

“This group has really come together over the last month,” Brown said. “Kots has been pressing us all year about how this club is talented. We have the necessary tools. The long balls of late have been huge for us.”

The slugging offense helped the A’s pitching staff overcome an astonishing seven solo home runs allowed to the Angels, which tied the all-time MLB record for homers by a team in one game. Still, even as the pitching continued to bend as late as the ninth inning -- when Zach Jackson’s homer surrendered to Taylor Ward shrunk Oakland’s lead to one run -- it did not break.

With Shohei Ohtani, who had already homered twice earlier in the game, stepping to the plate as the possible winning run, rookie left-hander A.J. Puk was summoned from the bullpen and retired the Angels’ two-way star on one pitch, finishing off another save for a young relief corps that is going to see increased high-leverage situations in the second half with Trivino now gone.

“He made a great pitch and jammed Ohtani right away,” Vogt said of Puk. “It’s exactly what we wanted to do. Obviously, you want to be the hero. So a lot of times, guys get big in that situation. Credit to A.J. for coming in and making a great pitch.”

There won’t be the typical playoff chase that has become custom for the A’s over the past few years. But that doesn’t make this final stretch of the season any less important. For this group, it’s all about developing confidence in the future pieces currently on the club, which played a key role in the A’s finishing a .500 road trip as they return home for a two-game series with the Giants. Those young players will have the valuable guidance of remaining veterans, such as Vogt.

“We really like the way we’re playing ball,” Vogt said. “The pitchers are throwing great. We’re getting timely hitting. We’re really excited for these last two months.”