In the midst of the Yankees’ grinding 20-game stress test, the pitiful A’s are the next-best thing to a day off.
Think of Oakland’s visit as a June oasis for Aaron Boone & Co., a well-earned breather surrounded by the Blue Jays, Rays, Astros and Guardians.
The A’s are atrocious with a capital A, a franchise adrift both on and off the field, as their ownership group looks to finally bolt crumbling RingCentral Coliseum for either a new waterfront park down the road or Las Vegas.
Before the rise of the smartly frugal Rays, it was the A’s who excelled at being the bargain-minded foil to the big-market Yankees. But those days are over, and now that Oakland’s 2022 payroll has nosedived to roughly $48 million — the Yankees are paying Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton a combined $65 million this season — it’s earned the less impressive label of cheap and terrible after its offseason fire sale.
The A’s stumbling into the Bronx couldn’t come at a better time for the Yankees, who just finished an exhausting four-game split with the annoying Astros, were down both middle infielders for Monday’s series opener and had to call up JP Sears from Triple-A Scranton as a sixth starter for Tuesday. Sears probably won’t notice much of a difference.
As for Monday’s 9-5 victory, the Yankees seemingly had to shake off a Houston hangover before stringing together a six-run seventh inning, much of it gift-wrapped by the A’s terrible bullpen. Check out this game-turning rally: walk, catcher’s interference, hit-by-pitch and another catcher’s interference (confirmed by review) before Josh Donaldson ripped an 0-and-2 fastball from A.J. Puk for the go-ahead two-run double.
“We’ve done it a lot of different ways this season,” Donaldson said. “But catcher’s interference is kind of unique. I think that was a first for me.”
Just add it to the multiplying reasons why the A’s dropped to 25-50 courtesy of their seventh loss in the past 10 games. And with Oakland’s abysmal bullpen — 6.54 ERA since May 26 — it was only a matter of time after Paul Blackburn’s departure.
The Yankees trailed 5-1 after three innings but sent 10 batters to the plate during that seventh-inning surge, which also included a two-run double by Jose Trevino and Marwin Gonzalez’s RBI single. Maybe they had to work a little harder than anticipated, but it paid off with the Yankees’ 23rd comeback win, most in the majors.
“I don’t know if catcher’s interference is being resourceful,” Boone said, smiling. “But yeah, guys were grinding.”
For the A’s, this was business as usual. They showed up Monday with MLB’s worst winning percentage (.338). They had produced one run or fewer in 27 of their 74 games (36.5%) and their 235 runs was the second-lowest total in the majors (the Yankees had 367).
It’s no surprise why. Oakland ranked dead last, No. 30, in batting average (.211), on-base percentage (.273), slugging percentage (.329) and OPS (.603). Only once have the A’s finished a season at the bottom in all four categories, in 1943, when they were Philadelphia’s problem.
The entire Oakland roster has 51 home runs. Aaron Judge has 28.
The Yankees couldn’t have drawn this up any better. The only reason they got stuck with 20 straight games is Thursday’s makeup at Minute Maid Park — a wrinkle created by the labor strife knocking out that first season-opening series in Houston. And they’re going to need this A’s series to help recharge for seeing the Astros again so soon.
You won’t hear the Yankees admit to being tired. But they went 16 1⁄3 innings without a hit before Stanton’s home run in the seventh inning Sunday and their two wins came down to the very last pitch, a testament to the effort required to beat the defending American League champs.
“It’s been a physically grueling stretch,” Boone said Monday afternoon.
Boone’s crew didn’t escape the Astros without a few bruises, either. Gleyber Torres (ankle/wrist) and Isiah Kiner-Falefa (bruised finger) were sidelined for Monday’s opener. Later that night, Anthony Rizzo — whose 20th homer gave the Yankees an early 1-0 lead — took a fastball off the right elbow as part of the seventh-inning rally. Rizzo was removed — “Just being smart,” he said — but there should be zero rush for any of them to get back.
Not with the A’s in town, the perfect window to reset the rotation by inserting Sears as well. The Yankees have to face the A’s two best starters in Blackburn (6-3, 2.97 ERA) and looming deadline prize Frankie Montas (3-7, 3.21 ERA), but Oakland’s bullpen is a house of cards. And if Monday’s collapse was any indication, the rest of this series should only get easier from here.