The home runs seemed to come in rapid fire. First Max Muncy pummeled a slider. Chris Taylor hit a fastball a bit harder into the seats. Perhaps by the time AJ Pollock’s homer slithered right over the right field fence, Frankie Montas had pitched himself out of contention as a postseason starter.
The A’s lost their series opener to the Dodgers in Los Angeles, 7-2. They faced an electric arm in rookie Dustin May, who blew 100 mph fastballs and a killer curveball past them. Robbie Grossman hacked at a 98 mph fastball that had enough gusto from the pitch velocity and Grossman himself that it sailed the other way and into the foul pole for a home run. Sean Murphy manufactured the A’s second run after drawing a walk and traveling on a couple ground balls and a wild pitch.
Montas couldn’t quite match May’s un-hittable energy, allowing five runs in four innings on seven hits with three strikeouts.
Of course, the scuffle came against a strong team in the Dodgers. That lineup can stick it to any and all starters on any given night — they have the game’s top offense with a collective .843 OPS and 107 home runs. There’s a clear difference in Montas’ performance before his upper back spasms cropped up in mid-August, and since he’s returned.
In four starts to kick off the season, Montas compiled a 1.57 ERA, a .175 opponents average and managed to keep all opposing hitters inside the park. In six starts since the injury, Montas has a 10.57 ERA with 10 home runs allowed.
It’s hard to peg exactly what’s gone wrong, though he just hasn’t been in sync with himself since missing a turn during the A’s series against the Giants back in August. He’s still throwing that mid-90s fastball, one with sink, and a decent slider. He’s also shied away from his splitter, but that’s been the case all through Montas’ stop-and-go season. Without the same out pitch that took him to high highs last year, Montas hasn’t quite been as potent. The timing of his injury has kept him off kilter.
In a long season, Montas would have the leash to figure it out. He has the tools, and the team would surely assure that Montas would find his 2019 self somewhere down the line that could nudge him higher into the postseason rotational ranks.
Before the season, Montas might’ve been a safe prediction as a sho-in starter for a must-win game. With a best-of-three series looming closer, Montas and the A’s don’t have enough space and time to let Montas find himself.
The A’s are American League West champions
Boozy celebrations are banned this year, so there wouldn’t be any clubhouse partying, anyway. But the A’s found out they’d clinched the AL West for the first time since 2013 in the comforts of their Los Angeles hotel.
The team couldn’t watch their fate unfold all together — they gathered in small groups and texted each other on the group chat.
“I think you could hear some yells down the hallway and stuff when it happened,” Chad Pinder said.
Those yells got a little louder when Seattle Mariners’ Evan White hit a three-ahead home run late, all but ensuring a Houston Astros loss and the A’s the division title.
“A lot of people were giving some shoutouts to Evan White,” Pinder said.
Chad Pinder close to return
Pinder has been out with a strained hamstring since Sept. 13, and could return from the injured list before the postseason begins.
“I’m starting to feel like I’m turning the corner, starting to feel better,” Pinder said Tuesday. “We’re definitely on the right track of feeling good.”
Pinder said he did some running Tuesday before the A’s game against the Dodgers. If he comes off that well, he’ll take grounders and do some on-field work over the course of the next few days.
Pinder is batting .226 this season with a pair of home runs. In a strange turn of events, the A’s are left-handed heavy. Having Pinder as a right-handed bat option at third or second base could be vital for the A’s versatility in a series.