A's confidence keeps building with four-game sweep of Yankees

A's confidence keeps building with four-game sweep of Yankees

OAKLAND — The A’s have offered glimpses this season of the top-notch baseball they’re capable of playing.

This weekend provided another of those snapshot moments as the A’s polished off an improbable four-game sweep of the Yankees, sending away a large, vocal segment of New York fans with nothing but disappointment as they filed out of the Coliseum.

The wins grew more impressive as the weekend unfolded. Oakland won in fluky fashion Thursday night on Khris Davis’ blooper-turned-walkoff single. Rookie Matt Chapman delivered the go-ahead single late in Friday’s game for a comeback victory. Then over the weekend, before two of their biggest home crowds of the season, the A’s simply beat the American League East leaders with stellar pitching and some early offense that they made stand, including in Sunday’s 4-3 win.

“This was awesome baseball to be a part of,” right fielder Matt Joyce said, “to see our team go out there and not only keep up with, but beat one of the best teams in baseball.”

Joyce dusted off the “Jekyll and Hyde” cliche to describe Oakland’s play, but nothing more perfectly describes this club. The A’s are 22-13 at the Coliseum but just 9-25 on the road.

But taking four in a row from a Yankees team that leads the league in runs and boasts an MVP candidate in rookie Aaron Judge provides a substantial boost as the AL West-leading Houston Astros arrive Monday for a four-game series.

“This feels really good,” reliever Sean Doolittle said. “To put four games together against a team that’s that good, one of the best teams in the American League, and come away with a four-game sweep is really big for us.”

The topic of the 2012 A’s came up in manager Bob Melvin’s media session before and after the game. That team began a mad rush to the AL West title with help from a four-game sweep of the Yankees at home in late July. That team had young players such as starter Jarrod Parker, right fielder Josh Reddick and All-Star reliever Ryan Cook, who all grew up fast as that season progressed and were instrumental contributors to a playoff team.

Some parallels can be drawn with this year’s crop of up-and-coming players — among them infielder Chad Pinder, Chapman and Sunday’s winning pitcher, Jharel Cotton.

The difference is this year’s team faces a much steeper climb if it’s to make headway in the standings. That 2012 club finished its sweep of the Yankees to improve to 51-44 and was in great stalking position at 5 1/2 games out of first place. The 2017 A’s are 31-38. They’re 15 games off the pace in the division, and though they’re just 4 1/2 games back for the second Wild Card spot, there are nine teams ahead of them. But that’s not the point. With the A’s emphasizing a youth movement, the rest of this season is about the growth and the journey more so than the final destination.

“If you’re a Matt Chapman, a Chad Pinder, a Jaycob Brugman, guys that are just getting here, to know you can have a series like this gives you a lot of confidence, not only in yourself but as a team,” Melvin said.

The A’s finished off their first series sweep of any length since September of last season, and they did it with a mix of veterans and youngsters sharing the load Sunday. Cotton gritted his way through six innings of three-run ball on a day that registered as the hottest at the Coliseum in nine years based on the first-pitch temperature (90 degrees).

Pinder came through with a terrific at-bat in the A’s four-run third, driving a 1-2 pitch to the opposite field for a two-run double. Two batters later, Khris Davis snapped a power drought by hammering a two-run homer deep to center, his first long ball since June 4. That put the A’s up for good, 4-2. And for the second day in a row, with closer Santiago Casilla unavailable, Doolittle slammed the door in the ninth for the save.

Now officially in the fold, Lucroy ready to work with young A's pitchers


Now officially in the fold, Lucroy ready to work with young A's pitchers

The Oakland A's made it official: They finally got their man behind the plate. 

Oakland officially announced the signing of veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy on Monday. Lucroy's deal is reportedly worth $6.5 million, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser.

Lucroy joined his new teammates for the first time in Arizona on Monday, and told reporters that he is especially excited to work with the club's young, promising pitching staff. The three returning leaders in innings pitched (Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton) are all 27-years-old or younger, and 22-year-old top prospect A.J. Puk is pushing for a rotation spot after allowing just one run in three appearances this spring. 

"I'm looking forward to working with these guys and trying to help them get better and get better myself along the way," Lucroy told reporters. "I think that's what it's all about; taking what they do best and try to simplify their approach ... Really, just doing anything I can with them to get hitters out."

Manager Bob Melvin told reporters that he thinks Lucroy's experience will prove beneficial to his young staff.

"If we can't go out and get ourselves a [starting pitcher], that's the next best thing," Melvin told reporters on Monday. "So, he's got a lot of experience, and a great reputation for being a teriffic leader behind the plate."

Lucroy, 31, slashed .265/.345/.371 in 481 plate appearances with the Texas Rangers and Colorado Rockies last season, hitting six home runs with 40 RBI, his lowest marks in those categories since his rookie season in 2010.

In order to accomodate Lucroy's signing the, the A's designated left-handed pitcher Jairo Labourt for assignment. Labourt was acquired off of waivers on Mar. 4, and Labourt's arrival prompted the eventual release of Brandon Moss one month into his Oakland reunion.

Maxwell speaks about anthem protest, but stays mum on legal issues


Maxwell speaks about anthem protest, but stays mum on legal issues

When A's catcher Bruce Maxwell knelt during the anthem last season, he was the first MLB player to do so. He knelt before each of each of Oakland's final nine games, in order to protest racial inequality and in response to President Trump's incendiary comments about NFL players kneeling, but ended the season as the only MLB player to kneel during the anthem. 

This season, he won't kneel at all, he told reporters in a statement on the first day of spring training. 

“Obviously, I didn’t take that lightly,” Maxwell told the San Francisco Chronicle prior to the release of his statement.  “That was to bring awareness to a problem and the face we do see it, we do experience and we have empathy for what’s going on. This year I don’t plan on kneeling. … And we’ll move on forward.”

While Maxwell did address his protest during the anthem, he largely did not address his offseason legal issues.

“It’s ongoing, I can’t really discuss details,” he said. “It’s something me and my lawyers are handling.”

On Oct. 28, Maxwell was arrested in Scottsdale after allegedly pointing a gun at a food-delivery person. He pleaded not guilty to felony charges of aggravated assault and disorderly conduct in November, and is set for a settlement conference on April 13 after failing to reach a plea agreement on Monday, according to the Chronicle. 

If an agreement cannot be reached, Maxwell's trial is set to begin on Aug. 9.