Inside Pitch: Rangers demoralize A’s with 3-1 series win

After a resounding statement in game one of four, the Oakland Athletics laid an egg, dropping the next three against the division-leading Texas Rangers.

In their best offensive showing of the season, A’s hitters combined for 17 hits in Monday’s 14-5 win. As the offense precipitously tailed off in each proceeding performance the series ended with near-embarrassment, as manager Bob Melvin called it, held hitless through eight innings in Thursday’s 5-1 loss.

In games two and three it wasn’t the offense — which scored five and six runs — that was responsible. Instead it was starting pitching shortcomings, particularly ace Sonny Gray who gave up five runs in 6 innings in taking a no decision in Wednesday’s 7-5 loss.

Fastball: Coming through with runs on the line

Obviously bolstered by their 14-run outburst on Monday, the “Swinging A’s” finished the series going 15-for-36 (.417) with runners in scoring position. The result was a 26-run series (6.5 runs per game) for a team averaging 4.02 runs.

In what had been the A’s greatest offensive weakness, a recent run of success has pushed the team average in those run-scoring at-bats (.258) to the middle of the American-League pack (No. 8). With a shortage of power limiting them to 68 team home runs (No. 11 AL), The A’s will need to rely on continued success in clutch at-bats.

Changeup: Khris Davis

Davis (.241/.278/.487 2016 slash) began the series by driving in a run in each of his first three official at-bats — with a walk peppered in — and concluded Monday’s game with five RBIs. He finished with a series-high seven, to go with his four hits and four runs.

*Tip of the cap* to rookie pitcher Daniel Mengden (0-2, 2.25 ERA) who, for six innings, matched Colby Lewis’ (6-0, 2.81 ERA) no-hit bid with a one-hitter of his own. The 23 year-old hit a wall in the seventh, but thanks to assistance from the human tourniquet Ryan Dull (1-1, 2.31 ERA) escaped with just one earned run allowed.

Curveball: Max Muncy breaks the rules

A current hot-button topic around baseball is the game’s unwritten rules. In the sixth inning of what was then a perfect-game bid for Lewis, Muncy (.231/.412/.308), who eventually broke up the no-hitter with a ninth-inning double, attempted to push a bunt for a base hit.

He said after the game that he cared about nothing but getting a runner on to set up a rally, and given the scoreless tie it was a smart play.

Baseball’s unwritten rules, however, say that attempting to bunt for a hit after the sixth inning of a no-hit (or perfect game) bid is “bush.” The Rangers and Lewis did not retaliate during the Thursday game, but A’s fans should expect a dust up involving the two teams in the near future.

Sinker: Starting Pitching not cutting the mustard

Lest Mengden’s second career start — his first at home — the A’s inability to get a starting pitcher into the sixth inning was once again a key plot point during the series. On Monday, it was an injury to Sean Manaea. On Wednesday, it was Gray’s (3-6, 5.54 ERA) fifth-inning, five-run implosion. The worst performance, though, came in the form of Eric Surkamp’s continued struggles.

In Tuesday’s 10-6 loss, the journeyman lefty zapped all the momentum of the previous day’s dominance, serving up seven runs in just 2-1/3 innings, and pitching himself into a possibly pending DFA.

Slider: Gray un-acelike

Gray some into the season with high expectations, having finished third in the 2015 AL CY Young Award voting. Since his fourth start of the season, however, he has posted just one quality start.

Since a DL stint, the right-hander has tossed 18-2/3 innings, giving up eight runs (3.86 ERA). Despite some improvement, he has not performed to the ace-level his team needs from him.

Pitch out: Angels fly into town

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (29-37) are next up in Oakland. The Angeles have lost eight of their previous 13 games, bringing them back into the A’s grasp.

With a three-game sweep, the A’s would climb out of the AL West cellar.

The SoCal rivals are on the cusp of building a winning streak, however, having won each of their last two contests — albeit victories over the 20-46 Minnesota Twins — and were able to complete a sweep of the A’s in the only prior meeting of the two teams.

The home team will need to answer some internal questions if they even consider a sweep of the division rival: Who will be their starting pitchers on Saturday and Sunday? Can the starting pitchers hand a lead to the bullpen in the late innings? If they are to do so, will they need more performances like the one thy got from Mengden on Thursday, or can the offense be a shell of what it was Monday?

One thing is not in question: The Angels will send out their newest toy, former Bay Area superstar Tim Lincecum, to the mound for his season debut on Saturday.


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.