The A’s aren’t exactly in a great place at the moment, having dropped seven of their first nine games and six straight to open the season. Despite the early hiccups, they remain confident, not just because the season is young, but because they know themselves all too well.
“We’re always rotating guys and new faces, so for us, it always takes a little bit to get going,” said third baseman Matt Chapman. “But once we get going, we’re able to really bond and really pick up steam down towards the end.”
The A’s core is unmistakably different compared to last season. Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks signed with the Blue Jays and White Sox, respectively. Khris Davis was traded to the Rangers in exchange for Elvis Andrus. Robbie Grossman and Joakim Soria, among others, are gone as well.
Year-to-year turnover is nothing new. For Oakland, developing chemistry in the early going is the franchise’s standard goal, one the A’s always seem to achieve as spring gives way to summer.
Dating back to the “Moneyball” days, the A’s have been a team that progressively gets stronger as the season rolls along. Once the new parts have jelled, Oakland will go on one of its patented runs. In 2019, the team’s most recent full season, Oakland posted a .657 winning percentage in the second half.
“That’s how it’s always been over here,” Chapman said. “They’re always bringing in new guys. There’s no group of guys that have stayed together that long. So, for us, this is one of the longer groups, so I think it just takes time.
“I really believe in our group of guys and I think throughout the course of this season, you’ll see us become more of a team.”
Developing that rapport has been more difficult this season in particular, given the circumstances. During Spring Training, where teammates have an opportunity to familiarize themselves with one another, the A’s seldom spent time as a collective unit due to health and safety protocols.
Oakland has also been afflicted by numerous injuries. Chad Pinder (left knee), Mike Fiers (hips), Burch Smith (strained right groin) and A.J. Puk (strained left biceps) are all on the 10-day injured list, while Trevor Rosenthal was transferred to the 60-day IL after undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome earlier this week.
Despite the early bumps, manager Bob Melvin says the team has a good dynamic already in place. The team’s first road trip of the season has provided the club with an opportunity to bond away from Oakland. Chapman also pointed out the importance of new addition Mitch Moreland, who signed with the A’s this offseason, hitting a walk-off single against the Dodgers to snap the team’s losing streak.
“These guys get along really well,” Melvin said. “They’re still trying to feel out each other and how they play and so forth. I don’t think it will be a problem. We’ve just run through a tough stretch on top of it, some tough injuries on top of it. Everything that could’ve gone wrong here early on has. Hopefully that’s rectified here pretty quick.”
Chapman, in particular, is getting accustomed to playing next to Andrus after sharing the infield’s left side with Semien for his entire career. Andrus is as experienced as shortstops come, but he’s only played nine regular season games next to Chapman.
“We had our scuffles there in the beginning, but I think that was just the beginning of the season,” Chapman said. “We weren’t used to playing with each other. We’re getting more used to it, especially in the shift and turning double plays. Some of that only comes with time and practice and we’ve been getting more and more of that done lately.”
Moreland (hamstring) was available to pinch-hit against the Astros on Saturday, but Melvin’s preference is to not utilize the left-handed slugger. If Moreland hits off the bench and gets on base, Melvin will use a pinch-runner.
Moreland could potentially be available as a pinch-hitter when the A’s travel to Chase Field to play the Diamondbacks as well. Melvin said the hope is that Moreland can be healthy enough to get consistent plate appearances upon returning to Oakland later next week.
Left-hander A.J. Puk was feeling “better” on Friday, according to Melvin, but has yet to throw and is unlikely to return after the minimum of 10 days on the IL.