August 2013

PITCHERS’ RESURGENCE IN TORONTO BODES WELL

Well, since last I checked in with you, there is a pool of liquid that has formed at the white shoe tops of our Oakland A’s.  It’s the last remains of a six-game lead that has melted away in the AL West.  During a period when the Texas Rangers flexed their financial muscle with two significant acquisitions—a front of the rotation starter in Matt Garza and middle-of-the-order hitter in Alex Rios—that coincided with an Athletics’ 4-7 tailspin, there were those in the national media who suggested the A’s magic of a year ago may not materialize in 2013.  One respected scribe on ESPN.com’s Grantland site, in fact, pointed to a downturn in Oakland’s young starting rotation as a red flag.  He implied that Texas was the superior team, and that the majority of Curt Young’s rotation is struggling, with no reason to believe they will right the ship.

My first reaction to the article was, “this is a tad premature.”  The sample size is way too small.  This is not to imply that Texas is not a formidable foe.   As we experienced last year, they certainly are.  However, as soon it was suggested that our starting pitching was in demise, we rattled off three victories in our four-game wrap-around series in Toronto over the weekend.   Not only did we rebound from two losses that opened the road trip in Cincinnati, but our starting pitchers performed splendidly against perhaps the most powerful lineup in the American League.  The Blue Jays, led by José Bautista, Edwin Encarnación, Jose Reyes, Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus, are a bunch of mashers (as we saw recently when they launched a seemingly endless stream of home runs at the Coliseum).

Chicago White Sox v Oakland AthleticsOn Friday night, Jarrod Parker allowed six hits and three runs in 6.0 innings.  Saturday, rookie Sonny Gray made the first Major League start of his career and yielded only four hits and two earned runs in 6.0 innings.  Sunday, A.J. Griffin—who was scorched for four Jay home runs in Oakland only two weeks earlier—limited Toronto’s behemoths to five hits and two earned runs in 5.2 innings.  And in yesterday’s series finale, Dan Straily mowed down the Blue Jays to the tune of six hits and one run over a career-high 7.1 innings.  Collectively, the foursome posted a 2.88 ERA and averaged 6.25 innings per start at the Rogers Centre.

To me, that is a very encouraging sign for this young team as we enter the final six-and-half weeks of the regular season.  With Tommy Milone fine-tuning his pitches in Sacramento and Brett Anderson to begin a rehab assignment maybe within a matter of days, the A’s also have the luxury of two seasoned left-handers in their stable that will be ready when summoned.  And of course, the A’s bullpen might be arguably the best in the American League.  I’m not sure any other staff features a closer (Grant Balfour) with the top save percentage in the league, a right-handed set-up man (Ryan Cook) who just had a 75.2-inning homerless streak snapped over the weekend, and a left-handed set-up specialist (Sean Doolittle) who hasn’t allowed a run in his last 12 appearances.

With 26 of their final 45 games to be played in the pitching friendly confines of the Coliseum and sitting one game behind Texas at 67-50, I like our position.  We’re certainly battle-tested from last year’s race, so there will be no surprises for this team down the stretch.  Let’s all enjoy the ride.  It promises to be another frenetic finish. Although I do think we might want to consider an office pool, with the winner correctly guessing which uniform—the Rangers or A’s—Adam Rosales will be wearing on the season’s final day.

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