Why A's Matt Chapman could win AL MVP award in 60-game 2020 MLB season

Why A's Matt Chapman could win AL MVP award in 60-game 2020 MLB season

Matt Chapman ranks sky-high among the American League’s best third baseman. The A’s All-Star has won two straight platinum gloves, and was named 2018’s best defensive player regardless of position.

Oh, and the 27-year old can hit a little bit, too.

Chapman slashed .249/.346/.506 in 2019, with 36 home runs and 90 RBI, though his production took a significant dip in the second half. That’s still a quality offensive season, but certainly not in the AL’s elite tier. Still, his combination of offense and stellar glovework left him sixth in MVP voting.

It was three places back of teammate Marcus Semien, a shortstop who had a career year in every phase of the game.

Chapman left that excellent campaign wanting more, especially after hitting just .178 in September and October. He tinkered some with his swing before spring training, with some minor changes he believes will produce better and more consistent results.

“I think it was more mechanical than anything,” Chapman told this spring. “I was doing a few things that weren’t giving me the best chance for success,” Chapman said. “I tried to just clean up those few things and I think I’m going to have a better baseline for this season.”

Those who have seen it extensively have great confidence Chapman’s bat will produce even greater dividends.

“The sky is the limit for him,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said back in February. “He’s one of the top players in the league and really probably hasn’t had the offensive season that he would like to have at this point. He’s just going to keep getting better. He’s not at his ceiling right now.

“I’ve said often he’ll be in the MVP conversation for years to come.”

Will that be this year, in an odd 60-game season compacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic?

There’s no reason why not. Winning the AL MVP will be difficult as long as Mike Trout’s around. There are several worthy candidates in the junior circuit beyond the 28-year old three-time MVP, including a few players on his own team.

[RELATED: Jesús Luzardo: Everything you need to know on A's top pitcher prospect]

Chapman could well get hot early, scorch through a short season and carry the A’s to the playoffs. That’s undoubtedly within the realm of possibility for someone who felt more comfortable with his swing before baseball hit pause over the current public health crisis.

His defense will never rest, shining above the rest in terms of range, arm strength, dynamic playmaking ability and overall consistency.

Spending a solid chunk of his time in the Nos. 2 or 3 spot in the order, typically in front of Matt Olson, should help him get pitches to hit and, if he makes the most of opportunities during this 200-meter sprint of a season, he could be bringing home more than just a defensive award in 2020.

Astros vs. Oakland A's live stream: How to watch MLB games online, on TV

Astros vs. Oakland A's live stream: How to watch MLB games online, on TV

The A's are rolling.

Oakland has won six straight games as they welcome the rival Astros to the Coliseum for the first time since Houston's cheating scandal was unearthed in the offseason.

The A's (9-4) are coming off a sweep of the Rangers, while the Astros (6-6) lost two out of three to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Here's how you can watch the A's play the Rangers online (download the MyTeams app here!) and on TV:

Friday, Aug. 7

When: A's Pregame Live at 5:30 p.m. PT -- First pitch at 6:10 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports California
Stream: MyTeams app

Saturday, Aug. 8

When: A's Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. PT -- First pitch at 1:10 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports California
Stream: MyTeams app

Sunday, Aug. 9

When: A's Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. PT -- First pitch at 1:10 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports California
Stream: MyTeams app

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Marcus Semien's hard work paying off as he builds A's culture, tone

Marcus Semien's hard work paying off as he builds A's culture, tone

Austin Allen’s single to score Matt Chapman in the bottom of the 13th set the things up for Marcus Semien in the A’s 3-2 win over the Houston Astros on Friday night.

Semien sealed the deal with a walk-off single to center field. Semien smiled celebrated with an ice bath from Tony Kemp. It was a much-need victory over the Astros for both Semien and the A's.

For Semien, the big hit was a long time coming. 

“For me, it’s trying to be on time,” Semien told reporters following the 13-inning game. “I’ve been struggling with my timing a little bit, so just being on time, and same thing with Austin. Like I said, that guy was getting guys to chase up, so anything that is hard and a little lower, just attack it. I put a lot of work in earlier in the day just trying to hit line drives to the opposite field and it’s a good feeling when it clicks because for a while it hadn’t been clicking.”

Semien wasn’t hitting the ball hard, he explained. And when that happens, there’s a reason for it.  

“My stroke feels good, but sometimes it’s approach, sometimes it’s timing -- body position, a lot of things that could be,” Semien added. “That’s what early work is for, cage work. Once you get in the game, you just have to compete.”

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Semien said he has to create habits that work.

“It’s tough because you think you have to tinker with everything,” Semien added.

Semien wasn’t sure what that tinkering would consist of: Would he need to work on his swing? Not necessarily. The timing was definitely a factor, but Semien also believes opposing teams were attacking him differently.

That seems to be the case when he leaves a third-place AL MVP season behind him in 2019.

“They’re being more careful, you saw that with Texas,” Semien said. “I’m trying to take the low pitches, sometimes they’re calling them, and you just find yourself in 0-for-3 like that. I think today was a good day to build off.”

“They know last year I put up some good numbers and you’re not getting as much to hit. You think that you’re just going to get the same pitches that they threw last year and that’s part of it, kind of created some bad habits early on. Even since spring and Summer Camp, just hadn’t really been driving the ball well.” 

Semien said he’s working on that every day. It hasn't gone unnoticed.

“Marcus, I think has set the tone and built the culture here,” A’s starter Chris Bassitt told reporters during his postgame availability. “Obviously I think [Matt] Chapman and [Matt] Olson and those guys have caught on to just the work ethic that Semien brings every single day.”

[RELATED: A's fan creates GoFundMe to troll Astros with 'Asterisks' aerial banner]

Bassitt himself had a good outing, allowing just three hits and one earned run in seven innings. That brings his total to just two earned runs allowed in 16 2/3 innings this season. But this wasn’t about him at the moment despite his solid outing in the 13-inning game. He wanted to give Semien his moment.

“It’s not a matter of when [Semien] walks up to the plate, but whenever he does, you know you are getting the best effort from him every single night,” Bassitt said. “Doesn’t matter what at-bat, what inning. Anytime he walks up with the game on the line, I’m extremely confident in him.”