Three takeaways from A's eight-game streak

April 19th, 2021

Even on days when the offense gets out to a slow start, it never feels like the A’s are out of a game in the late innings with their firepower up and down the lineup. As catcher Sean Murphy demonstrated on Sunday, all it takes is one swing.

An A’s offense that was stymied by Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd for most of the day was finally jump-started by Murphy’s explosion at the plate. His first homer of the year -- a game-tying solo shot off Boyd in the eighth -- ignited a late rally for the A’s. The comeback was finished off in the ninth by Mitch Moreland, whose hard liner off Gregory Soto ricocheted off the glove of third baseman Jeimer Candelario into left field, scoring Matt Olson from second for a walk-off 3-2 victory.

Although the left-handed Soto was on the mound, A’s manager Bob Melvin opted to go with the left-handed-hitting Moreland as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the ninth. That decision paid off with a win that capped a four-game sweep of Detroit and extended Oakland’s American League-best winning streak to eight games.

“We weren’t getting a ton of good swings. But as long as we’re close, we find a way to win the game,” Melvin said. “It was a little unorthodox with the left-on-left pinch-hitter there, but Mitch has been around. He’s smart in what he’s looking for. He was just trying to shoot it the other way where there were some holes open.”

Prior to Murphy’s homer leading off the bottom of the eighth, the A’s had just two hits against Boyd and zero since the fourth. Murphy arguably has the best power on the team, which is impressive considering he’s in a lineup that also features sluggers like Olson and Matt Chapman. That power of his changed the vibe of the A’s dugout with a ball that was crushed 112.1 mph off the bat -- the hardest-hit ball of the day by either team -- and traveled a projected 404 feet to left-center, according to Statcast.

“With the swings we were getting off Boyd, it felt like a grand slam at the time,” Melvin said of Murphy’s home run. “We weren’t doing a whole lot. You knew he would break through at some point and hit a ball out. That’s what he does. It was a big momentum shift.”

Because of an ongoing COVID-19 situation with the Twins, the A’s will get an unexpected off-day on Monday before playing a tentatively scheduled doubleheader against Minnesota on Tuesday at the Coliseum. Before they return to action, here are some takeaways from what has been a flawless eight-game stretch for the green and gold.

1) Starting pitchers are feeding off each other
With some help from a brilliant outfield assist from Ramón Laureano -- who nabbed Robbie Grossman at third base on a blooper for the first 8-5 fielder’s choice turned in by an A’s center fielder since Dwayne Murphy on July 10, 1980 -- Chris Bassitt navigated through a rocky first inning on Sunday to continue what has been a strong run by A’s starters.

Retiring 14 of 16 batters faced at one point, Bassitt finished the day allowing just two runs on five hits with two walks and a season-high eight strikeouts in six innings. After combining for a 7.91 ERA through a rough 1-7 stretch to begin the season, A’s starters have gone 5-0 with a 3.48 ERA (11 earned runs in 33 2/3 innings) over this eight-game win streak.

“We sucked the first week,” Bassitt said. “I know how important starting pitching is. I get that it basically wins and loses games for you. I think we were digging a hole for our offense so much that it trickled into our hitting. We had a big group chat with our starters and the message was to ride this out. We have to come in positive. This little phase we were going through wasn’t going to last forever. Things are clicking now."

2) Trivino settling into the closer role
The concerns about how the A’s would get through the season following Trevor Rosenthal’s surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome have been quelled each time Lou Trivino has taken the mound lately. After tossing a scoreless ninth to keep the game tied on Sunday, the right-hander now holds a 0.84 ERA through nine relief appearances. He’s also 2-for-2 in save opportunities this season, notching both of those during their current win streak.

“He’s always had the stuff to close,” Melvin said. “We always envisioned him being that guy after 2018. Sometimes when you take a step back, it makes you work a bit harder. That '18 season was pretty easy for him. We’re seeing a guy that has worked really hard to get back to where he was with the same stuff he had a few years ago."

3) The Two Matts are hot
The A’s look like a completely different ballclub when their two infield corner stars -- Chapman and Olson -- get hot. Over the past week, they both seem to be finding their groove at the plate.

Olson, who prior to Moreland’s walk-off got himself in scoring position with an Oakland Coliseum sun-aided double in the ninth, is batting .375 with three homers and seven RBIs over his last seven games. Chapman, meanwhile, has recorded extra-base hits in five of his last six games, hitting .280 with two home runs and seven RBIs over that span.