OAKLAND — There was nothing real flashy about the way the A’s handled business Wednesday.
No particular play or outstanding performance stuck out as they finished off a sweep of the lowly Minnesota Twins. And perhaps that’s the best thing you can say about the A’s during this five-game winning streak.
They’re notching victories with workmanlike efficiency, getting solid starting pitching, airtight bullpen work and clutch hits from a variety of sources. Steady play has been the norm, and that’s an encouraging way to win because it leaves the impression that it’s a repeatable formula.
First baseman Billy Butler looked up at the scoreboard at one point during Wednesday’s 5-1 victory and realized his team had posted one run in each inning from the second through the sixth.
“Usually we’ve been a team that puts a big inning together, but it was just consistent production up and down the lineup today,” said Butler, who was 2-for-3 with an RBI. “The boys are motivated, the boys are playing together. Yeah, we’re wanting to keep the streak going, and we’re just playing well as a team. That was a total team effort.”
Is it any surprise that the A’s enjoyed a 5-1 homestand at the same time that their starting rotation found its footing? They got quality starts in five of their six games, with Oakland starters posting a 3.60 ERA and averaging just a shade under six innings per start.
If the above sentence doesn’t impress you, just think back to early May, when A’s relievers couldn’t find a comfortable seat in the bullpen before they were being summoned to warm up, as another game was getting out of hand.
On Wednesday, highly regarded rookie Sean Manaea delivered what A’s manager Bob Melvin called his best start yet as a major leaguer. The lefty held the Twins to one run over six innings, working out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the sixth with just one run scoring. Manaea struck out a career-high eight, which helped offset his three walks.
“He’s been in a few of those situations before where I had to go get him,” Melvin noted. “Today he worked his way out of it, which was great. That’s what you want to see, him being able to get through stretches like that when there’s some adversity and get out of it with limited damage like he did.”
Making his seventh big league start, the 24-year-old Manaea said he had his best slider yet since being promoted from Triple-A. Combining that with good fastball command and a changeup that’s becoming more of a weapon with each start, Manaea’s confidence is on the rise.
“Those first couple starts of the season I wasn't comfortable at all,” he said. “I was having all those thoughts in my head. As the starts have gone on, you realize that it's just baseball. The hitters are better, but I can still get them out with the stuff I have. I've come to learn that my stuff is good. I wasn't really feeling that the first couple starts, but the more hitters I get out the more confidence I feel.”
Third baseman Danny Valencia had three more hits, capping a homestand in which he torched opposing pitching at a .545 clip (12-for-22). But lending a big assist Wednesday was Butler, who made some nice contributions throughout the homestand. He drove in a third-inning run with a single and set up another run in unexpected fashion.
After doubling in the second, the not so fleet-footed Butler broke for third as a wild pitch scooted past Twins catcher Juan Centeno, but not very far. Butler was safe by a whisker, and that play proved important when he scored on Billy Burns’ two-out infield single for the game’s first run.
“Speed kills,” Melvin quipped, before adding: “It was a heads-up play. He got a good jump and got us a run.”
“I can’t say I get us a run with my legs too much,” said the man nicknamed Country Breakfast. “So I’ll take it.”
And as the A’s prepare for an eight-game road trip, they’ll gladly take more of what transpired on this homestand.