Inside Pitch: On poor starting pitching A’s drop three in Detroit

The Oakland Athletics continued their bipolar ways by losing three out of four to the Detroit Tigers.

After beginning their 10-game road trip with a three game sweep of the Yankees (8-12) in New York, the A’s (11-12) finished going 5-5 thanks in large part to the series loss in the Motor City.

Over the course of the four games, the Oakland offense scored just 12 runs. The off-and-on offensive deficiencies have taken away from what has been a strong start to the season for the pitching staff.

Thus far in 2016, the A’s have averaged 2.7 runs per game in their 11 losses – scoring no more than four in any single loss. In their 10 victories, they have averaged 4.5 runs per game. Winning 5-1 on Tuesday, while losing 3-7, 4-9 and 3-7 in the other three games respectively, their trip to Detroit followed the same path as the prior 17 contests.

 

Fastball (Team strength): Finally, some base on balls

Coming into the series, A’s hitter had combined to draw an MLB low 37 walks (1.9 per game), which was a large contributor to its league-worst .287 team on-base percentage.

Their total of 12 walks drawn in the four games was certainly aided by the nine issued Thursday, but inspiring nonetheless. While they were unable to capitalize on the free bags the newfound ability to draw a walk, should they keep it up, will couple nicely with their just over one home run per game (24, MLB No. 12).

 

Changeup (Top individual performer): Rich Hill (3-2, 2.42 ERA)

Although Jed Lowrie (.325/.368/.375 2016 slash) raked in three starts against the Tigers (11-10) – raising his batting average from .292 to .325 with six hits – his day off for the only win of the series made him only the second-best A’s performer of the series.

Hill, who is currently No. 2 in the American League with 37 strike outs in just 26 innings, posted another excellent road start. In picking up the win in Tuesday’s 5-1 victory, Hill lasted seven frames, allowing just four hits and no walks while fanning eight.

Not only was he the only Oakland starter to cool the Detroit bats, he was the only one to survive through the fifth in what was otherwise another long series for the bullpen.

The veteran lefty is now 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts on the road, but has year to find his groove at home, going 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA in two starts at the Coliseum.

 

Curveball (Surprise of the series): Failures in the shutdown inning

Aside from Tuesday’s win, in which they went 2-for-2, A’s pitchers were able to convert on only two out of nine attempts at the shutdown inning.

When playing from behind, as the A’s were quickly on Monday and Wednesday, a team is not capable of trading runs. In those cases, pitchers have to find a way put a zero on the board in the half inning following an offensive score. The inability to do so zaps any momentum created by the offense and nixes comeback hopes.

The green and gold have yet to put it together on the mound and in the batter’s box together for any extended period of time. While they are capable of winning with one or the other, any postseason hopes they have hinge on putting the two together.

 

Sinker (Team weakness): Starting pitching

Only on the strength of seven innings from Hill did the four A’s starters who took to Comerica Park mound pick up more outs than the bullpen.

With Hill’s outing the rotation went a total of 17-1/3 frames, while the bullpen was forced to eat 15-2/3. Removing Hill’s seven, of course, leaves the ratio at 10-1/3 to 13-2/3. And that is without a mention of the 22 hits and 17 runs allowed by the three A’s starters not named Rich.

To have the bullpen pitch more innings over a three-game stretch of non-extra inning tilts is alarming. The most alarming of those starts came from ace Sonny Gray (3-2, 3.81 ERA), who lasted a career-low innings on Wednesday.

 

Slider (Poor performing individual): Chris Coghlan (.156/.229/.375)

Coghlan, who started in all four games, was unable to collect a single hit seeing his batting average drop from .192 to .156.

He did draw two walks Thursday, but struck out a total of five times while leaving six runners on base over the four contests. The utility man came into the series riding a powerful hot streak, having hit three home runs in his previous four games, but was drastically cooled by the Detroit pitchers. Oakland will need the 30 year-old to perform at a higher level, as he is currently the number one fill-in for injured slugger Danny Valencia (.294/.345/.353).

 

Up next, for the Swingin’ A’s is a weekend series against the Houston Astros (7-15). The highlight of the three-gamer will be the major league debut of top pitching prospect Sean Manaea (2-0, 1.50 ERA with 21 strike outs over 18 innings in Triple-A) on Friday.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.