OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics lineup has been on fire lately, and they continued their roll with an 8-5 win against the Los Angeles Angels in Monday’s series opener.
The A’s got a full team effort on offense, including home runs from No. 7 hitter Jurickson Profar and No. 9 hitter Josh Phegley, plus another from Matt Chapman for his club-leading 14th of the year, and third in as many games.
“It can be a relentless lineup — top, middle, bottom,” said manager Bob Melvin. “We have a very deep offensive lineup when we’re swinging well.”
Oakland trailed 3-1 in the fourth inning when Profar went deep to tie the score. It was his eighth homer of the season, tying him for third place on the team. Phegley followed with his own long ball in the fifth, a solo shot that gave the A’s a lead they never relinquished.
“Another day, another Josh Phegley homer,” said Melvin of his catcher, who went deep for the second straight game. Phegley’s seven homers are already just two short of his career-high, set in 2015.
“Whenever Josh is an everyday guy, he hits, and people are seeing that,” said starting pitcher Chris Bassitt. “He’s gonna hit home runs, he’s gonna hit. It’s really hard to hit when you’re a backup catcher.”
Bassitt noted that Phegley has spent most of his A’s tenure backing up the likes of two-time All-Star Stephen Vogt, and then last year’s primary starter Jonathan Lucroy. Phegley agreed that regular playing time has made a positive difference in his performance.
“Knowing I’m going to play the next day, I don’t put too much pressure on my at-bats,” said Phegley. “When you get four or five at-bats a week, you kind of live and die on those at-bats, and I feel like I’m able to put those away and just roll onto the next thing and try to be successful. It’s let a lot of pressure off me to perform.”
Phegley’s 32 RBIs are tied for the team lead, and are also tied with Gary Sanchez of the New York Yankees for the lead among American League catchers. However, he sees that as a credit to the team more than anything.
“I look at the RBIs as that’s how much our team’s getting on base,” said Phegley. “I’m kind of coming up in clutch situations, bases loaded a lot, guys on. I might go 1-for-4 but my one hit is with two guys on and they score. You can call it luck having those guys on, but we’ve been getting on base and hitting the ball well and I’ve just come up with those big hits in those situations, so, very fortunate.”
Chapman had plenty of praise to offer his teammates, especially while top slugger Khris Davis is out of action on the injured list.
“When the bottom of the lineup is able to get on base, score runs, and produce runs, it takes the pressure off the top of the lineup,” said Chapman. “Instead of somebody trying to do too much, everybody just takes a good at-bat and does their part. I feel like that’s when you’re playing your best baseball — everybody is doing their part, and not trying to do anything more or anything less, and everything falls into place.”
The A’s entered Monday having averaged 6.5 runs and a pair of homers per game over their previous dozen contests, helping fuel a winning streak that has now reached 10 games — that is, pending the Sept. 6 completion of their suspended game against the Detroit Tigers, which lies in the middle of the streak. Oakland took the over on both of those offensive averages against the Angels on Memorial Day, with eight runs and three homers, and their team total of 81 jacks now ranks eighth in the majors.
“Two weeks ago, people were kind of freaking out about our offense, and now it’s like, well here it is,” said Bassitt. “We have one of the best offenses in the league. We knew this was coming, just a matter of time, and it’s here, so keep riding the wave.”
The A’s did more than just hit homers on Monday, though. Robbie Grossman drove in the first run with a double in the third inning, and Stephen Piscotty knocked in a pair in the fifth after Phegley’s tater. Mark Canha also added an RBI hit in the eighth.
Those later hits from Piscotty and Canha, plus Chapman’s dinger in the seventh to increase a slim one-run advantage, ultimately provided critical insurance in a game in which the Angels brought their bats too.
“The adding on was huge,” said Melvin. “Each one of those [runs] late in the game, especially when it was a one-run game at one point, to add on ends up being huge. We’re just a little bit relentless right now, with how we’re going about our business. And it’s not always just a homer, we’re finding a way like yesterday to manufacture a run, with get ‘em over and get ‘em in too.”
The Halos battled hard all day, and Bassitt danced in and out of trouble on a few occasions. He did a good job of limiting the damage, but he still ultimately allowed five runs and was pulled in the sixth inning.
However, the A’s bullpen locked things down for the final 12 outs. Yusmeiro Petit and Ryan Buchter combined to escape the sixth with the lead still intact, and then the dynamic trio of Lou Trivino, Joakim Soria, and Blake Treinen breezed through the final three frames to seal the victory.
“Two or three starts ago they were riding the wave of all of us going eight innings, and now it’s like, hey, we need you guys,” said Bassitt of the bullpen stepping up. “Hopefully we [the starters] start repaying that back and saying, ‘Hey, take a couple days off.’ We’re riding them kinda hard right now, but they’re doing a heck of a job to say the least.”
The A’s bullpen is tied for the AL lead with 10 blown saves, but they haven’t blown one in two weeks. They’ve successfully converted five saves during that span.
The Angels didn’t get much from their top two stars. Mike Trout went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a walk, and Shohei Ohtani singled in the seventh but was caught stealing by Phegley. However, they did get a homer from Albert Pujols, who at 39 is now the oldest player on any active roster in the majors after the A’s recently cut 42-year-old reliever Fernando Rodney.
“Trout gets himself out,” said Bassitt of the A’s success against him on Monday. “Nothing works with Mike Trout. He’s the greatest hitter in the league. It’s pretty much throw things around the zone and get lucky.”
It was also a rough day for Angels starter — and former Athletic — Trevor Cahill, who was chased in the fifth inning and ultimately charged with six runs. After posting a 1.84 ERA in 11 starts at the Oakland Coliseum in 2018, he has now allowed 10 total runs in his two starts against the A’s there this year.
Oakland now stands at 29-25 for the season, firmly in second place in the AL West. They’re also tied with the Boston Red Sox for the second Wild Card playoff spot, which doesn’t count for anything this early on but does symbolize their quick turnaround from a slow start in April.
The A’s face the fourth-place Angels again on Tuesday, with Frankie Montas on the mound. Los Angeles will use a bullpen opener, followed by the season debut of right-hander Nick Tropeano in bulk relief. Tropeano last faced Oakland back in 2016, before injures cost him significant time, and he’ll have his work cut out for him against one of the hottest lineups in the sport.