A's draw inspiration from hard-fought series win

June 1st, 2023

OAKLAND -- Greed is a natural instinct that kicks in when a team has an opportunity to sweep a series. The A’s are no different.

Coming off back-to-back victories against Atlanta, Wednesday afternoon’s series finale presented the A’s with a chance at their first sweep of 2023. Oakland came up short in a 4-2 loss at the Coliseum, but considering the club’s struggles over a miserable start to the season, taking two of three from a first-place Braves squad certainly qualifies as a positive.

“We played a really good baseball team,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “They’re one of the top teams in the league, and we competed all three games. We fell short today. But this series, in general, we did a lot of good things we can build off of.”

As the A’s head east to begin a nine-game, three-city road trip on Friday, here are three takeaways from their first series win at home in 2023:

Pitching looks to be improving
Speaking with reporters last week in the midst of a rough 11-game losing streak, A’s general manager David Forst discussed how the dangers of relying on a young and inexperienced pitching staff have played a factor in the team’s rough beginning. It’s too early to proclaim that the pitchers have figured it out. However, this series provided encouraging signs.

Over three games, A’s pitching held down a potent Braves offense to just seven runs. It began with solid outings by Paul Blackburn and JP Sears over the first two victories, and continued on Wednesday with James Kaprielian cruising through the first four innings with just one hit allowed. Departing with two outs in the fifth, his only real blemish came earlier in the inning when Ozzie Albies golfed a 2-2 slider below the zone for a two-run homer that just cleared the wall in right.

“From the pitching side, we’ve shown some improvements from April to May,” Kotsay said. “I do feel like, over the last two weeks, the pitching has done a much better job all around. Starters have gotten deeper into games and the bullpen is starting to see some symmetry in roles. … It’s going to be fluid. We’re going to do our best to give these guys opportunities for success.”

The league is adjusting to Rooker
The A’s offense has gone stagnant over the past couple of weeks, averaging just over two runs per game over the past 14 contests. It might not be a coincidence that Brent Rooker’s production also decreased in that period.

Following a red-hot April that saw him rise to the top of league-wide leaderboards as he hit .358 with nine homers in 21 games, Rooker cooled off a bit in May, hitting just .198 in 28 games.

Rooker’s March/April: .353/.465/.779 (1.245 OPS)
Rooker’s May: .198/.289/.327 (.616 OPS)

Rooker noted that he is seeing a steadier diet of fastballs these days and fewer sliders.

“From right-handers, it’s avoiding sliders and throwing more curveballs and changeups,” Rooker said. “The middle window where I was doing a lot of damage early, they’ve tried to avoid it recently. Right-handers will go fastball and then either big curveballs or changeups. Lefties tend to go fastballs and whatever their slowest offspeed pitch is.”

With Rooker now an established piece in the middle of Oakland’s order, it will be imperative to get him back on track. Signs of that showed on Wednesday, as his double in the sixth keyed a two-run rally.

“From a production standpoint, he was a lot of our offense in April,” Kotsay said of Rooker. “Right now, they’re executing pitches against him. … We couldn’t have expected him to continue the way he was. Overall, he’s going to be fine.”

Positive vibes
The overall month was not great for the A’s, who at 6-23 finished with the second-lowest May winning percentage in franchise history. Getting over a grueling losing streak with a couple of wins against a potential World Series contender, though, provides some optimism going forward.

“There was a different vibe in here last night and this morning with the chance to sweep a series,” Rooker said. “We didn’t, but we competed hard and played pretty well. The vibes are picking up. Guys are starting to get some confidence in themselves.”