The Athletics are fresh off arguably the toughest stretch of their 2018 schedule. Not only did the A’s hold their footing through this tough strip of land, they improbably improved their standings.
After suffering a sweep at the hands of the reigning champion Astros, Oakland set out on a 10 game-in-10 day journey through the beastly American League East. Faced with the daunting task placed in front of them by the postseason hopeful trio of the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays, the A’s return to Oakland Tuesday having made up ground on every AL West opponent after going 7-3 in the Eastern Time Zone — despite being bitten in the Big Apple.
There are numerous things the A’s did right in going 6-1 in Boston and Toronto. The offense muscled up, mashing 13 homers, rookie Dustin Fowler found his rhythm, slashing .278/.364/.611 with two stolen bases and solid defense, and Daniel Mengden continued his emergence as a top-end starter with 13 10-hit innings while allowing a single earned run in two starts. The young corner men Matt Olson and Matt Chapman each awakened from extended slumbers, combining to go 19-for-55 (.345) with four homers and nine RBIs.
But nothing played as significant a role in the A’s incredibly productive trip as the bullpen.
Yusmeiro Petit made five appearances on the trip, allowing one run in his 8-2/3 frames, earning a win and three holds, and is now among the league’s leaders in appearances (22) and innings out of the bullpen (28). Josh Lucas and Emilio Pagán each made inspiring returns to the big leagues. And Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen have become a daunting set up-set down tandem.
All told, the bullpen worked 43 innings over the 10-game trip, going 3-1. Manager Bob Melvin spoke to the all-around production of his club Tuesday, but did not allow the conversation to go very far without a tip of the cap to his relief corps:
“We had a nice trip, all the way around. We played pretty good defense, we swung the bats better. The bullpen was fantastic. Two games in a row where we had to cover 14-2/3 innings out of the ‘pen, and we won both those games. The guys in the bullpen stepped up.”
Even their respectable 3.35 combined ERA is a bit misleading. Half of the 16 runs the bullpen allowed on the trip were tacked to the continued struggles of Ryan Dull (five earned in 2-1/3 innings), who has not looked like his normal self since injuring his knee last season, and Wilmer Font (three earned runs in two inning).
The quartet of relievers Melvin likes to use in high-leverage situations — Danny Coulombe, Petit, Trivino and Treinen — surrendered just two run in 22-1/3 innings of 10-hit, 19-strikeout dominance.
Of the four, Trivino is perhaps the most noteworthy. The 26-year-old rookie spent the first three weeks of the season blowing away the minor leagues with a 1.69 ERA and 0.563 WHIP for Triple-A Nashville. In just 13 big league outings, the Pennsylvania native has risen from mop-up duty to the eighth inning.
Asked if he has confidence in the youngster in this role, Melvin offered a simple yet demonstrative response:
The skipper added:
“Deservedly so. … You look at his numbers — you look at his stuff, too, if he throws the ball over the plate he’s going to be successful. It’s been a quick rise.”
Melvin’s trust in the hurler is understandable, given his offerings. Trivino gives hitters the nearly unhittable combination of a 97-mph fastball, 92-mph cutter and an 81-mph snappy curveball.
Stuff-wise, Trivino is among the game’s elite late-innings relievers one month into his major league career. And while his stuff is among the nastiest in the league, it is good enough for second-best on his own club.
Treinen appears to be punching a ticket to his first All-Star game with a 1.19 ERA and 10 saves, striking out 10.7 batters per every nine innings pitched. And in an era an analytics like launch angle, the 29-year-old closer is among the toughest to elevate with his 98-mph sinker that is among the game’s elite in nearly every measurable, according to MLB Quality of Pitch.
Melvin sais that everything is coming together for Treinen, whom the A’s acquired in a deadline deal with the Nationals last season:
“I don’t know how, at 98 miles an hour, the ball has time to move that much. But it does. … The way he’s pitching right now is about as good as anyone in baseball.
Between Treinen’s sinker-slider and Trivino’s cutter-curveball combinations the A’s seem to have shortened their games to seven innings. Add in the bridge work of Petit and Coulombe and Oakland has the makings of an overwhelming bullpen. With the offensive production of Fowler, Marcus Semien, Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis, Olson and Chapman, and the emerging top-of-the-rotation duo of Mengden and Sean Manaea, a 7-3 road trip and 6-1 week could be merely the beginning.
Making up ground on every divisional opponent could be nothing more than a setup for the A’s to overtake one or two of those teams — they open their home stand with three games against the Mariners — before June.
Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.