Inside Pitch: A’s V-Twin engine runs over Minnesota

Driven by a combined 10 hits, four runs and five RBIs from 3-4 hitters Stephen Vogt and Danny Valencia, the Oakland Athletics completed a dominating sweep of the Minnesota Twins.

Posting a total of 15 runs, while giving up just seven, over the three games the A’s (25-29) finished their second home series sweep to close out their first winning home stand of the season.

In what was their best overall set at home, Oakland got contributions from the entire roster. The bullpen allowed just one run in 10-1/3 innings of work, with the help of flawless defense. The offense not only hit, it hit with runners in scoring position — which has been the lineup’s weakness — going 7-for-24 in such situations.

Perhaps the only shortcoming for the A’s came in the form of starting pitching, which was hit with six runs in 16-2/3.

Fastball: Big hits in big moments

Scoring seven and five runs in Tuesday and Wednesday’s wins the As moved to 17-8 when crossing the plate four-plus times.

Reaching the magic number has been difficult, however, as A’s hitters came into the series batting .259 when runners were in scoring position. Not only did the green and gold hit at a .292 clip in those at-bats, they received a pair of sacrifice flies — both from Khris Davis (.238/.267/.508 2016 slash) — pushing their season total to 16 (AL No. 3).

Changeup: Valencia

Despite a pair of potent performances from Vogt (.268/.303/.402), Valencia (.346/.380/.579) stole the show.

It is no coincidence that the third baseman finds himself in the midst of a modest five-game hit streak while his teams has now won five consecutive. And the streak has been more impressive than just the number of games. Of his 12 hits during the stretch, Valencia has slammed two home runs and three doubles, while knocking in four runs and scoring seven more.

Not only did the former Twin slash his prior team repeatedly with a bat, he made several stellar defensive plays helping to keep Minnesota off the board.

Curveball: Wearing out a trail to the dugout

Oakland hitters struck out a total of 27 times — more than once per inning. That is far too many.

The main culprit was Jed Lowrie (.315/.355/.364) who went down on strikes five times, while Marcus Semien (.229/.306/.434) added four. The highest single-game total of the series came Tuesday with 12 “Swinging A’s” swinging and missing,  ominously led by Lowrie, Semien and Coco Crisp (.242/.294/.418) with two apiece.

Even with the rough series, the offense has combined for the sixth-least strike outs in the major leagues (368).

Sinker: Starting pitching

The fact that the starting pitching is the most disappointing facet of the series for the A’s carries two meanings: The team played a well-rounded and dominant series, and the starting staff has begun to develop competencies that have eluded them in the previous month.

Combined, Oakland starters have posted a 5.13 ERA, just a hair better than the Twins (5.33) team they just swept.

Monday starter Kendall Graveman (2-6, 5.09 ERA) had his six-inning, two-run outing one-upped by rookie Sean Manaea (2-3, 6.16 ERA), who allowed one run in his six frames. Unable to pull his weight, fill-in starter Eric Surkamp (0-3, 6.41 ERA) was given the hook with two outs in the fifth.

Though he was hit for only three runs, Surkamp’s inability to finish the fifth forced the bullpen to take on a bit more pressure. Having pitched 184-2/3 innings (AL No. 2), the bullpen has been forced to pick up the pieces to the tune of 3-1/3 innings per game, and is due for some much-needed rest. The starting staff should be aiming to average six-plus per game.

Slider: Surkamp

Had manager Bob Melvin offered an honest answer prior to Tuesday’s game, he likely would have said that getting through the fifth inning with a lead was the goal for Surkamp. What that means is, the 28 year-old fell one out shy of a productive outing, though allowing as many runs as the other two starters combined.

It has been rough goings for the first-year Athletic, who has finished the fifth just once in six 2016 starts. Even tougher has been his constant travels between Oakland and Nashville, where he has made four starts for the Triple-A Sounds. And there is a distinct possibility that his next start will be with the minor-league affiliate.

Pitch-out: Flying high into Space City

Melvin’s squad will roll into Houston riding a wave of momentum with which they have little experience. Facing the Astros (25-29), the A’s can climb further  form the depths of the AL West standings with a series win over their divisional foes.

Playing in Minute Maid Park, which is a tight-handed hitter’s haven, Valencia and Davis will be relied on heavily to provide the pop. Preventing pop will be a job that falls in the hands of the pitching staff, which will be facing the AL’s eighth-highest scoring offense. As much about hushing the powerful Houston bats, the series will also be about slowing the AL’s leading base-stealing team (42).

In the only previous matchup of the two opponents, Oakland took the series 2-1 at home. In taking that set the A’s slowed Houston’s power and pace, allowing just two homers and two stolen bases.

It will be a slightly different team this time around, however, as the Astros are 14-13 at home.


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.