The 2020 Major League season is one-quarter over. The Oakland A’s have an eight-game winning streak, they own a 4½-game lead in the American League West and became MLB’s first 11-game winner with a 3-1 win over the Astros Saturday.
So much for the worries that the A’s, slow starters and fast finishers each of the last two years, would begin the shortened 60-game season in the slow lane.
The encouraging thing for the A’s is that they’ve done it in their own division – all eight wins in the streak have come against AL West competition – and they’ve done it with one hand tied behind their backs. That would be the offense, which has been unspectacular.
In Saturday’s win, Marcus Semien opened the game with a home run and Matt Chapman added the final run in the bottom of the eighth with another solo shot, his third. Still, the A’s only got nine hits and three runs, hardly the stuff of legends. The Astros, for example, have outscored the A’s by nine runs this season.
And almost everyone has outhit the A’s. The nine hits Saturday raised Oakland’s batting average by five points, but it sits at .213, 12th in the 15-team AL.
What the A’s have had is a little bit of clutch. On Friday night, down a run in the 13th inning, the A’s got RBI hits from rookie catcher Austin Allen and veteran shortstop Semien to tie the game, then win it.
Back on opening night, Matt Olson hit a walkoff grand slam in the 10th inning. On Aug. 1, with the A’s down two runs early, Chad Pinder hit a two-run homer in the seventh to tie it and Robbie Grossman got the game-winner on the road in Seattle with a 10th-inning pinch-hit double. That ended a three-game losing streak and began the current eight-game winning streak.
Three days later Stephen Piscotty hit the first walkoff grand slam of his career to beat the Rangers.
OK, that’s a lot of bit of clutch.
If the hits don’t keep on coming – Oakland has reached double figures in hits just twice in 15 games – the big hits seem to be available in substantial quantities.
The thing is, this is a team that is supposed to hit. And the A’s have every confidence that the hits will come.
“We’re playing great,” manager Bob Melvin said. “And still maybe offensive we have a little bit more than we can accomplish. But we’re timing everything really well. The guys are all in synch.”
Semien, looked upon by his teammates as something of a team captain, seems to be picking up the pace. His single in the 13th inning and his leadoff homer marked the first time in 12 decades of A’s history that a player with a walkoff hit had homered to start the next game. (Charlie Blackmon of the Rockies did it last April 19-20).
In the sixth inning Saturday, Semien singled, stole second, took third on a throwing error and scored on an infield out for the second Oakland run against lefty Framber Valdez, who’d limited the A’s to just one hit from the second inning until Semien’s leadoff hit in the sixth.
“That’s why he was third in the MVP voting last year,” Melvin said of Semien. “He leads off, he’s durable, he’s a team leader. He can run. He’s a terrific fielder. He hit, hits for power does it all. Guys like that, with multiple facets to their game, during the course of a game it’s really fun to watch.”
Semien tied the A’s record held by Rickey Henderson for the most consecutive games played batting leadoff Saturday with 148. He’ll get No. 149 Sunday in the series finale against the Astros, the team that beat the A’s to the finish in the AL West the last two seasons.
Semien said the timing the A’s have going now “is important, especially in close games.”
“A lot of our games have been close, but we’ve been playing good defense,” Semien said. “Timely hitting with the pitching is very consistent; it’s almost surprising when we give up runs. It’s a good sign that we’re playing good ball regardless of the batting average.
“We’re doing what we have to do to win games.”
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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