FILE: Oakland Athletics’ Matt Olson readies to bat against the Giants at AT&T Park on Friday, July 13, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A’s sweep their way back to .500 in echo of 2018

Oakland sweeps Cleveland on the road and is now 10-4 since Matt Olson’s return

Matt Olson’s presence since his return from hamate bone excision surgery has been a difference maker for the Oakland Athletics.

Since Olson came back on May 7, the A’s are 10-4, have hit 27 home runs and, with a 7-2 win over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday to finish a three-game sweep, have now returned to the .500 mark for the first time since April 19.

It was a road trip to Cleveland and Houston shortly before the All-Star Break last season that helped nudge the front office into going all-in at the trade deadline to make a late-season push at the postseason. With ace Sean Manaea and other young difference-making arms expected back after the All-Star Break this season, this recent stretch could be a sign of things to come.

When the A’s visited the Indians on July 6 last season, they were 48-39, third in the AL West. After they lost the first game against Cleveland, they went on to take the next two from AL Central-leading Cleveland then three of four from the reigning American League champion Houston Astros. They finished the season winning 49 of their final 74 games.

On Wednesday, with Olson continuing to steady the lineup and allow hitters to be more patient, the A’s made the opposing starter throw 40 pitches within the first two innings for a third consecutive day, ultimately chasing Jefry Rodriguez after just four innings.

Oakland’s first two runs off Rodriguez came without a hit as he walked three of the first four batters he faced, with a seven-pitch free pass to Olson loading the bases. Mark Canha’s grounder would have scored the game’s first run regardless, but an error by Jose Ramirez let all runners advance safely, instead of turning into a force out or double play, setting up a Robbie Grossman sac fly to make it 2-0.

Nick Hundley’s second homer of the season — both opposite-field blasts coming on the current road trip — made it 3-0 in the second, and Olson doubled in the third and later scored on a Grossman RBI single. Canha’s two-out double in the fourth scored Matt Chapman, and the A’s chased Rodriguez after just four innings and 94 pitches, forcing the tall right-hander to walk four batters. Just 49 of his pitches went for strikes.

Oakland would tack on another run in the sixth when Canha homered off of Dan Otero, his fifth since returning from the injured list at the start of the road trip, and back-to-back doubles by Ramon Laureano and Hundley made it 7-0 in the seventh, capping off a three-hit day for Hundley.

Meanwhile, starter Frankie Montas pitched out of jams on a day where Cleveland (25-23) went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left 11 on base. He struck out nine — one shy of the career high he set last Friday in Detroit — in six shutout innings.

A one-out double by Carlos Santana put men on second and third in the first, but he struck out Jake Bauers and got Ramirez to fly out to end the inning. Francisco Lindor came up in a similar situation in the second after a double by Kevin Plawecki, but Montas battled back from a 3-1 count and ultimately won a nine-pitch battle, striking the Indians star out on an inside slider. He struck out three in the fourth, though Ramirez did reach on his strikeout via a wild pitch, and struck out Santana and Bauers to get out of the fifth after a Lindor walk and Jason Kipnis single. His performance was the hallmark of a mature pitcher, something he’s developed over the last two seasons after bouncing between starting and relief roles in his earlier years. With Wednesday’s performance, his ERA sits at 2.40 to go with a 6-2 record and 1.13 WHIP.

The only blemish for the A’s was Fernando Rodney, who cast doubt on his future with the team as he turned in yet another ugly performance. The 42-year-old faced four men in the eighth inning and didn’t retire any of them, allowing two hits and two walks, including a two-run homer to Bauers. Lou Trivino got out of the jam as Oscar Mercado popped out, Leonys Martin flew out and Plawecki struck out swinging.

Not only did the A’s sweep the Indians in Ohio, they finish the season series 5-1 against the Tribe overall, a critical mark considering that both teams are currently on the path to compete for AL Wild Card positions.

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