By Matt Doan
Special to S.F. Examiner
ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Oakland Athletics are a long way from spring training, but on the final weekend of the regular season, their goals are similar: Keep their starters sharp, determine pitching roles and stay healthy.
These are the priorities heading into next Wednesday’s winner-take-all Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium. Winning actual baseball games along the way is a bonus, and on Saturday night, the A’s did just that, beating the Los Angeles Angels 5-2.
Manager Bob Melvin started most of his regulars against Angels left-handed starter Tyler Skaggs, with an eye towards keeping Oakland’s bats in rhythm for next week’s likely Yankees left-handed starter, J.A. Happ.
The A’s (97-64) struck quickly in the first inning. After a one-out walk to Matt Chapman, Khris Davis slugged his 48th homer of the year to give the A’s the early 2-0 lead. In the third inning, Ramon Laureano led off with a stand up double, moved to third on a Chapman groundout and scored on a sac fly from Jed Lowrie.
Opener Liam Hendricks got his ninth start in the month of September, and allowed a single in the first, but nothing else on 15 pitches. Hendricks is feeling more comfortable in the opener role, “It’s the 8th time I have done this, so I am getting more used to it. The more I pitch, the better I feel. It is always fun to be at the start of the something.” Hendricks could be in line to have the same role against the Yankees next Wednesday.
“It’s the same game, just more eyes,” Hendriks said. “At the end of the day it is about getting 27 outs.
A’s right-hander Trevor Cahill relieved Hendriks in the second inning and efficiently retired 10 straight batters before running into trouble with one out in the fifth inning.
Andrelton Simmons reached on a throwing error from Chad Pinder, who started the game at first base, but had moved over to third to spell Chapman at the beginning of the inning.
After a walk to Angels third basemen Taylor Ward, Kaleb Cowart singled to center to score Simmons and plate the Angels first run. The bright spot on the play was an impressive throw from Laureano to Pinder to cut down Ward trying to advance to third. Cahill and the A’s escaped the inning with just the unearned run to make it 3-1, A’s, after five innings.
“He was really fluid with his delivery, had great sink on his pitches,” Melvin said.
Cahill (7-4) would claim the win on the evening going four innings, allowing one unearned run on one hit and two strikeouts.
“I am excited for the regular season to be over and excited to get to New York,” he said.
Lowrie struck again in the sixth inning off Angels reliever Jim Johnson, hitting his career-high 23rd home run of the season to increase the A’s lead to 4-1. The A’s padded their lead in the eighth inning, loading the bases against Angels reliever Cam Bedrosian and getting a sac fly RBI off the bat of Stephen Piscotty for their fifth run.
Potential Wild Card relievers Shawn Kelley, Fernando Rodney, Jeurys Familia and Blake Treinen closed out the A’s victory from there, with the only blemish being a run allowed by Rodney in the seventh inning.
The win was the 97th overall for the A’s, 22 more than they had last season and their highest win total since 2013.
“It means we have had a really nice year and been on quite the run since June,” Melvin said.
Chapman’s first-inning run was his 100th run of the season. Chapman becomes the seventh player in A’s history to collect 100+ runs, 40+ doubles and 20+ homeruns in a season and the fourth player to accomplish this feat in the majors in 2018 (joins Boston’s Mookie Betts, St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter, Houston’s Alex Bregman and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor). Laureano’s outfield assist in the fifth inning was his ninth in just 46 games.
Pinder started at first base on Saturday night, the seventh different position that he has started a game at this season.
Brett Anderson, will start the final game of the regular season Sunday from Anaheim.
All 15 MLB games on the final day of the regular season (Sunday) will have the same start time (12:05pm PDT). The early forecast for Yankee Stadium on Wednesday is low 70’s at first pitch (5:05pm PDT) with a 10% chance of rain.