Athletics

A's bullpen turns back the clock with dominant effort in win vs. Astros

A's bullpen turns back the clock with dominant effort in win vs. Astros

OAKLAND -- It's no secret that the A's bullpen has dealt with its share of struggles this season. Heck, we literally just published an article about it earlier Friday.

But on Friday night, Oakland's pen turned back the clock to 2018. Blake Treinen, Jake Diekman, Joakim Soria, and Lou Trivino combined to pitch seven scoreless innings against a relentless Astros lineup, leading the A's to a thrilling 3-2 win in 13 innings.

"It was a big night for a lot of guys, and maybe some guys who were struggling a little bit really emerged," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "We saw the type of stuff that we saw last year. So hats off."

The final numbers? Seven innings, no runs, three hits, two walks (one intentional), and nine strikeouts. It was a performance made even more impressive by the fact that Melvin was down his top two bullpen arms -- Liam Hendriks had pitched the previous two days and Yusmeiro Petit the last three.

Instead, Oakland had to turn to four relievers with ERAs above four. And all four came through in a big way.

"I would love to not give up a single run -- all of us -- and absolutely dominate a game like we did today," Trivino said. "It's awesome. Baseball's not like that, unfortunately, so it's nice to have a good night like this. Lord willing, it continues."

Trivino was especially impressive, extending himself for three innings and 41 pitches. He allowed just a single hit and an intentional walk, pitching around a rare Matt Chapman error in the 13th inning to earn his fourth win of the year.

"That's huge for him," Melvin said. "You have to go out there and be perfect to not lose the game. I think this was great for his confidence as well. That's a really tough lineup he went through for three innings. He hasn't done that in quite some time. Really impressive to see."

Trivino joked that it was nice to finally answer reporters' questions after a positive outing, which have been far too rare this season.

"It seems like recently, it's been telling you guys how terrible I am," Trivino said. "I finally felt behind the ball today. I was able to attack the hitters and throw all of my pitches for strikes. It was something that I really needed and I'm thankful that I was able to pull through for the team and give us a chance to win."

Soria's performance was just as important, as he grinded through two exhausting innings and 43 pitches himself. The veteran right-hander also had to overcome an error, picking up second baseman Corban Joseph in the 10th.

"Soria was impressive too because he was completely out of gas," Melvin said. "But when I went out to talk to him, he had no part of coming out of that game. He wanted that last out."

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Perhaps this will be the night that changes the fortunes for Oakland's bullpen. Maybe they can regain last season's form for the rest of the year.

At the very least, Friday provided an enormous boost of confidence for four pitchers who desperately needed it.
 

Where A's MVP finalist Marcus Semien wants to improve next season

Where A's MVP finalist Marcus Semien wants to improve next season

OAKLAND -- Marcus Semien enjoyed a breakout season in 2019, in just about every area. The Oakland shortstop became the first A's player to register a top-three finish in the AL MVP race since Miguel Tejada in 2002.

"It means a lot," Semien told NBC Sports California. "It was a very competitive field this year. I think that the game is changing. There are so many players who can do everything on the field -- fielding, base running, scoring runs, producing runs. I'm trying to work on every part of my game to get better, and in the second half, I really made some improvements."  

Semien, 29, set career-highs in runs, hits, home runs, doubles, RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and just about any other stat you can think of. The Bay Area native might have been even better defensively, where he was a Gold Glove finalist for the second straight year.

But despite all of his accomplishments, Semien believes he still has room to improve in 2020.

"I think baserunning is a big one, just getting in scoring position more for our big hitters," Semien said. "We've got great hitters in the middle of the lineup, so walking and getting hits, you want to just make sure you run the bases right. Defensively, turn more double plays, help our pitchers. We're going to have some young pitchers, so we want to make them feel as comfortable as possible."

Last offseason, Semien's most significant development involved plate discipline. He reduced his strikeout total from 131 to 102 and drew a career-high 87 walks, 26 more than the year before.

Semien also matched an A's single-season record by scoring 123 runs, fourth-most in the majors.

"Scoring runs was a big one for me," Semien said. "Solidifying myself in the leadoff spot. I've been moving around the lineup for a couple of years now and just to solidify the leadoff spot and score runs and get in a routine was great."

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While he appreciates the individual recognition, Semien's main focus is team success. After experiencing back-to-back Wild Card Game losses, he is optimistic that the A's can make a deeper run next season.

"I think we're going to be good," he said. "We want to start off better than we did last year. I think that our rotation will be more solidified. These last two years, we've added at the (trade) deadline to get our rotation where we want it to be, where this coming season, we'll hopefully start the rotation that we like. Position players are ready. I think that we'll have everybody healthy and it'll be fun."

Why A's shortstop Marcus Semien could be MVP candidate again in 2020

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USATSI

Why A's shortstop Marcus Semien could be MVP candidate again in 2020

Marcus Semien fell short of winning the AL MVP Award, but his third-place finish might be just the beginning.

At 29 years old, the A's shortstop still is very much in his prime and has significantly improved in each of his five seasons with Oakland.

When Semien first joined the A's at the age of 24, he was a decent hitter but looked completely lost in the field. In 2015, he committed a league-high 35 errors, prompting many to believe that he could never develop into a major-league shortstop.

But with the help of Ron Washington, Semien went to work. He spent hours upon hours working on his footwork, glovework, and consistency. Fast forward to 2019 and Semien has transformed into a back-to-back Gold Glove Award finalist.

Semien's offensive development has been just as impressive. This past season, the Bay Area native slashed .285/.369/.522 with 33 home runs, 43 doubles, 92 RBI, and 123 runs scored. He notched career-highs in just about every offensive stat imaginable, ranking near the top of the majors in all of the important categories.

Most impressive, Semien's 8.1 WAR (wins above replacement) was fourth-best in baseball, behind only Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, and Cody Bellinger. Semien started all 162 games at shortstop, batting in the leadoff spot for 145 of those contests. And the scariest part for the rest of the league is that he continues to get better.

"He becomes a better hitter every year," A's manager Bob Melvin said earlier this year. "Nobody works harder than Marcus Semien. He knows what he needs to work on."

After the All-Star break, Semien arguably was the most productive hitter in baseball. In 70 games, he slashed .304/.396/.621 with 19 homers, 22 doubles, five triples, 44 RBI, and 62 runs.

If Semien continues at that rate next season, it would translate to 44 home runs, 51 doubles, 12 triples, 102 RBI, and 143 runs over the course of 162 games. That certainly is MVP-caliber.

Of course, the A's have a major decision to make -- Semien is set to become a free agent after the 2020 season and figures to see some big-money offers. Will Oakland sign its star shortstop to an expensive extension or instead turn the reigns over to young prospect Jorge Mateo?

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Semien is entering his final year of arbitration, where he is projected to get $13.5 million. After that, the A's could choose to make a qualifying offer to Semien for 2021, but there is no guarantee he would accept.

If 2020 does end up being Semien's last year in Oakland, it figures to be another special one. This year he was an MVP finalist. Perhaps next year he'll just be the MVP.