If someone had told the Oakland Athletics back on Opening Day that they would finish 5-5 on the big 10-game road trip in April, the team probably would have been happy about that. However, after winning the first four games of the road trip last week, the A’s lost five of the last six games—including another drubbing today in Detroit against the Tigers.
With an 11-12 record, Oakland sits mired somewhere in the middle of the American League West Division now. The A’s head home tonight so they can open a six-game home stand on Friday night against the Houston Astros and the Seattle Mariners (three games apiece). But Oakland is sure licking its wounds, especially as the starting rotation was very bad over the last five losses (two in Toronto, three in Detroit).
Rich Hill was the only starting pitcher to survive Comerica Park and the Tigers’ $110 million lineup of hitters. He tossed seven innings of shutout ball on Tuesday night, striking out eight batters in the process, as Oakland won its only game of the series, 5-1. Shortstop Marcus Semien had a big home run in that game, as the A’s racked up 10 hits against Detroit pitchers.
Otherwise, it was the other way around this series: Combined, Kendall Graveman, Sonny Gray and Chris Bassitt combined to give up 17 earned runs in just 16 1/3 innings of work in the other three games. Oakland’s cut-rate rotation—making $8 million total—couldn’t handle the Tigers at all in this series. Gray tossed a rare stinker on Wednesday, lasting just two innings while walking four batters and giving up four runs in a 9-4 loss.
Graveman and Bassitt are not great pitchers, and on most teams, they’d be No. 5 starters. In Oakland, though, they are relied upon to chew up innings and hopefully give the offense a chance to win. Sometimes, that works. It didn’t work this week: Graveman took it on the chin to the tune of 10 hits and six runs in less than five innings, while Bassitt was hammered for 10 hits and seven runs today in less than four innings.
The offense has to take some blame here, of course, for its inconsistency, but the Detroit rotation—making $71 million itself—isn’t getting paid because it stinks. Scoring just 14 runs in four games in Comerica is not a good week, but it’s been the A’s challenge all month to score: Oakland is scoring just 3.5 runs per game right now, so when the pitching isn’t there, the wins won’t be there, either.
One of the big issues is first baseman Yonder Alonso: He is hitting just .154 with a .388 OPS. How much longer can the A’s continue letting him play and give up outs? He’s terrible, and they never should have traded for him in the first place. Mark Canha may not be that much better right now (hitting .152 with a .571 OPS), but he should be playing first base instead of Alonso. Furthermore, the injury to Danny Valencia hurts Oakland’s roster flexibility, but they can overcome that. They just need to get Alonso out of the lineup, because he’s killing the team’s ability to string together big innings.
The rotation hopefully will get a boost tomorrow night at the Coliseum as the club’s best pitching prospect—Sean Manaea, the prize of Ben Zobrist trade last July—is expected to get the call up to make his MLB debut. If he can slide into the A’s rotation, it becomes that much better and stronger overall.
Oakland needs its SPs to perform well more often than not, and while Toronto and Detroit are two good-hitting teams, the A’s can get by with their rotation for awhile. Eventually, however, to make the postseason and make a run at another AL West title, Oakland will need its SPs to silence good lineups—while getting some good scoring out of its own roster.