Oakland’s putrid start has already taken a significant bite out of its postseason chances. View the original article to see embedded media. Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning you’ll get a fresh, topical column to start your day […]
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Oakland’s putrid start has already taken a significant bite out of its postseason chances.
Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning you’ll get a fresh, topical column to start your day from one of SI.com’s MLB writers.
It took six pitchers, 10 innings and a sacrifice fly by a .042-hitting shortstop in the bottom of the ninth, but on Wednesday afternoon, it finally happened: the Oakland A’s won a game.
Mitch Moreland lined a walk-off single to centerfield to give Oakland a 4–3 win over the Dodgers. As pitcher Jesús Luzardo put it, the team “just got tired of getting our ass kicked.”
In storming back to beat Los Angeles, the A’s improved their 2021 record to 1-6 and avoided making history with the first 0-7 start in the 121-year history of the franchise. Their 0-6 start was the team’s worst since 1916 when they were in Philadelphia. That team, managed by Hall of Famer Connie Mack, was led by first baseman Stuffy McGinnis and had a pitcher named Bullet Joe Bush.
One week does not make a season, though Oakland’s putrid start has already taken a significant bite out of its postseason chances. FanGraphs gave the A’s a 33.4% chance at making the playoffs before the season began, a number that now sits at 10.8% following Wednesday’s win. Projections are obviously far from ironclad, but face-planting out of the starting gate can have long-term consequences.
A closer look at the week that was somehow paints an even grimmer picture for Oakland. The A’s have held a lead exactly twice this season—once in the bottom of the first against the Dodgers on Tuesday, and again on Wednesday after Moreland’s walk-off single. They’ve been outscored a combined 53–17 and have scored three runs or fewer in five out of seven games.
The pitching staff hasn’t been great, particularly in the season-opening Astros series, but it’s the offense that should have A’s fans most concerned. Oakland hitters have put up a combined -0.5 fWAR through seven games, worst in the American League. The A’s are also last in the AL in wRC+ (57) and last in the majors in slugging percentage (.264). For any regular besides center fielder Ramón Laureano, the season’s been a nightmare.
A reason for hope this season was the forecasted bounce-back campaigns from franchise cornerstones Matt Olson and Matt Chapman. It’s obviously far too early to write either player off, but this is certainly not the start that would suggest last year’s struggles are behind them.
Chapman hit his first homer of the season on Wednesday and hit the ball hard on a ninth-inning single, but he has struggled to make contact through seven games. He struck out a career-worst 35.5% of the time last year and has struck out 10 times in 28 plate appearances so far this season. Even with Wednesday’s home run, Chapman hasn’t been lifting the ball in the air enough through the first week, with a 50% ground ball rate.
While Chapman has fought to rediscover his old form, the typically-durable Olson has been out the past two games with a bruised knee. Prior to his absence, he had four hits (three singles and a double) in 21 plate appearances with six strikeouts and no walks. He’s considered day-to-day after missing just 35 games over the previous three seasons.
The main worry here is not that Chapman and Olson won’t turn things around this year (though the sooner they can do that, the better). It’s that, when the pair goes through cold stretches, the rest of the lineup lacks the thump to pick up the slack. The only two other regulars who projected to be above-average hitters are Laureano and catcher Sean Murphy (per Steamer’s projections). The early results for both have been mixed
Laureano has gotten off to a solid start, but Murphy is hitless in 14 plate appearances. Moreland, Olson’s primary replacement, has zero extra-base hits through seven games. And shortstop Elvis Andrus is batting .042/.040/.083 in 25 plate appearances, and hasn’t put up a wRC+ above 76 since 2017.
Maybe a dramatic, come-from-behind walk-off win is exactly the type of event that will springboard this team to hitting its groove. In a month or two, we might look back on this woeful week and shake our heads at the knee-jerk reaction that the A’s—who have won nearly 60% of their games over the previous three seasons—might be doomed for a disastrous summer.
But games in early April still count for something, and this weekend the A’s will hit the road for the first time to get another crack at the Astros. It’s far too soon for this to be a must-win series, but a continued cold spell from Oakland’s bats will likely mean more butt-whoopings to come.
• It’s safe to say Jordan Hicks has his firepower back. Back after recovering from Tommy John surgery, Hicks hit 103.2 mph against the Marlins Wednesday. Of his 18 sinkers, 13 clocked in over 100 mph. The Cardinals won, 7–0, to secure a sweep of Miami.
• Aaron Judge was sidelined during the Yankees’ 4–3 loss to the Orioles with what’s being described as “side soreness.” Not sure if that’s an official medical term, but it’s certainly concerning for a player with a history of oblique injuries. Stay tuned here.
• Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber struck out 12 Royals in a no-decision on Wednesday, bringing his season total to 24 in two starts. Going back to last season, Bieber has had double-digit strikeouts in 10 of his last 14 outings.
• The Phillies improved to 5-1 with a win over the Mets. After last season’s bullpen nightmare, the early results for the revamped group has been promising: Phillies relief pitchers have a 3.27 ERA in 22 innings and have yet to blow a save.