If you’ve followed the Oakland Athletics at all this year, you’d know that the A’s bats have been a glaring weakness of the team. The A’s came into Monday’s action in Detroit as losers of nine straight–with a team batting average of .200. The team’s OBP hadn’t faired much better. The A’s packed their bags to leave Minnesota on Sunday with a staggering .264 OBP. While the batting average placed them at 29th in the majors, their OBP was dead last. That’s not the kind of recipe that Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill would have had in mind when trying to make a low-market team successful.
On the other hand, the pitching staff had begun to consistently keep the A’s in ballgames. The rotation, headlined by Frankie Montas and Paul Blackburn, was doing its job to give the A’s a chance to win. When would the A’s bats come alive to match the play of the pitching staff? A five-game set against the underwhelming Detroit Tigers would be a perfect place for them to start.
Who Stepped Up
In the first game of the five-game set, Tony Kemp, who went 5 for 19 in the series, was the one who got the scoring started with a solo blast to right. That would be all the team would need from the A’s bats, as Blackburn continued his hot start. Blackburn gave the A’s 6 2/3 innings of scoreless ball before handing things off to the bullpen, who would close the door on the A’s 2-0 victory. Kevin Smith was another guy that stepped up in this series. Smith also finished the series 5 for 19 and had three extra-base hits to go with it. His biggest was a two-run double that ended up breaking things open in the fourth game of the series. It also ended the major league debut of Tigers starting Pitcher Joey Wentz, who left after giving up six runs–all of them earned.
In the last of the five-game set, the A’s were the ones that would come out firing. They scored three in the first, thanks to some poor fielding and a two-run single from Christian Bethancourt. The Tigers were able to claw back in this one, eventually making it 3-3. After a two-out walk to Jed Lowrie in the top of the eighth, Seth Brown showed off his power by sending a Michael Fulmer fastball into the seats in right. The A’s wouldn’t look back in this one, as Dany Jimenez shut the door in the ninth to secure the A’s 5-3 victory and his donut ERA through his first 12 IP of the year.
The most exciting news for the A’s lineup was Ramon Laureano’s return to it. Laureano made his season debut on Sunday against the Minnesota Twins, after being suspended 80 games for PED use. His first full series in action was this one against the Tigers. He struggled in the series, going 3 for 18. The A’s won’t worry too much about that, but will instead be appreciative to have his presence back in the clubhouse. The lineup is lacking in experience, and Laureano is a guy that’s been there before and is familiar with winning at the big-league level.
This is going to be an interesting season for Laureano. He debuted in 2018 as a 24-year-old and quickly became a fan favorite due to his consistency at the plate and his highlight-reel plays in the outfield. Now Laureano is not the young guy anymore. How will he handle being the veteran presence in the clubhouse? Can he be a guy that leads this team, while helping the young players develop? If he can, he’s going to have to do it while in a battle for centerfield. Laureano has traditionally occupied that spot, but Cristian Pache has found a home there. Pache has routinely run down balls that would normally be sure doubles.
Not only is this roster vastly different from the one Laureano was accustomed to playing with, but the manager is different as well. To this point, Mark Kotsay has placed Pache in center and Laureano in right, when they have both been in the lineup. We’ll see if this changes as the season goes on. Laureano last played for the A’s in Early August of 2021. Perhaps Laureano’s return to the lineup is the spark that the A’s bats need in order to find their mojo at the plate.
Need More Neuse
To this point, Sheldon Neuse has been the best player in the A’s lineup. His splits through the Tigers series were .290/.350/.402. Looking through the A’s lineup, you won’t find another guy that’s even close to putting up a .290 batting average. Neuse was with the A’s in 2019, but he only played in 25 games and did not make the wildcard game roster. Neuse didn’t play in the big leagues in 2020, and in 2021 he found himself on the Dodgers. After posting a .169 BA through 33 games last year, Neuse was released. After the lockout ended, Neuse reunited with the green and gold after the team claimed him off waivers.
Neuse’s hot start shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. The utility man consistently put up massive numbers in the minor leagues. In 2019, he hit .317 to go with 27 HR in AAA, giving the A’s no choice but to include him in their September call-ups. We often see young players struggle upon reaching the majors, and usually, they just need at-bats to work out the kinks. Now Neuse’s job is to be the tone-setter for this sluggish A’s lineup. Among the A’s bats, he’s the only guy that’s been able to have consistent success. Sometimes a lineup just needs a few guys to get going, and more guys will then follow. The problem, in this case, is that it’s just been Neuse.
The A’s will look to take the series with the Twins Wednesday, winning two of three–right after losing three of four from the Los Angeles Angels. This will conclude a six-game homestand with the Angeles and the Twins before heading down to Anaheim for a rematch with their division rivals.
The Angels are off to a surprisingly great start this year. The team’s winning has been headlined by the astonishing offensive explosion of Taylor Ward. Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout have also continued to do incredible things on the diamond. This is as expected from them at this point. These two stars have yet to find very much team success, but will be looking to change that this year. This week will be the second time that the A’s will square off with their division rivals this season, and it’s set to be a good one.
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Frankie Montas, Christian Bethancourt, Paul Blackburn, Tony Kemp, Cristian Pache, Kevin Smith, Joey Wentz, Jed Lowrie, Michael Fulmer, Dany Jimenez, Ramon Laureano, Sheldon Neuse, Shohei Ohtani, Daulton Jeffries, Mike Trout, Daulton Jeffries, Chase Silseth,