Inside Pitch: Red hot A’s take two at chilly AT&T

On Wednesday, temperatures are expected to reach 86 degrees in San Jose. In Livermore: 97 degrees. In San Francisco: 63 degrees. In the Oakland Athletics’s clubhouse: 1,100 degrees — fire.

Upon departing for a six-game California road trip, the A’s (34-43) looked to be limping towards the All-Star Break. Having lost six of their previous eight, they were starved for a momentum swing — something to get them headed in the right direction.

After heating up in Anaheim, taking three of four from the Angels, the offense stayed hot, freezing out a San Francisco Giants team which had been the hottest in the National League.

In the past seven games, the Oakland offense has scored the fifth-most runs in the American League (40) while posting a .300 team average (No. 5), a .368 on-base percentage (No. 3) and a .474 slugging percentage (No. 6). The 5.7 runs per game has come in support of the AL’s second best ERA (3.59), despite significant bullpen struggles.

And it all came to a head with a 21-run, 24-hit smoldering eruption for a two-game sweep in the road half of a home-and-home series with the Bay Area rival Giants (49-30).

Fastball: Hanging crooked numbers

The suddenly scorching Oakland bats posted five multi-run innings in the two-games.

While two of their three home runs in the series came with runners on base, the A’s also pieced together five three-plus hit innings. A weakness for the offense throughout the season has been the inability to do exactly that — stringing together hits. They have relied too heavily on the long ball.

If the green and gold can continue to string together hits, the trade season will bring a buyer’s mindset while September will feature a postseason push as opposed to a minor-leaguer showcase.

Changeup: Semien puts on a show in his hometown

Marcus Semien (.248/.315/.462 2016 slash) served as the grand marshal for the A’s parade around the AT&T Park basepaths.

After punching former Athletic hurler Jeff Samardzija in the mouth with a second-inning, three-run homer in Monday’s 8-3 win Semien was on base for Jake Smolinski’s back-breaking, three-run jack in Tuesday’s 13-11 barnburner.

Along with his three hits, four runs and five RBIs, the San Francisco native was also a key cog in the Oakland defense’s flawless trip across the Bay Bridge, taking part in all three double plays. With 62 to his credit, Semien now leads all major league shortstops in twin-killings.

Curveball: Walking to first, not to the dugout

Oakland hitters combined to to take more walks (13) than strikeouts (10) in the two games.

As a team, they have now been fanned a total of 507 times (second-fewest MLB) but drawn just 184 free passes (third-fewest). During the current hot stretch, the A’s have whiffed a league-low 38 times.

Sinker: The bullpen gets the horns

While the starters held San Francisco to six runs in 12-2/3 innings, the bullpen was unable to wrangle the Giant bats — serving up eight runs in 5-1/3.

The relief corps was hammered for 12 hits — two home runs — while matching each of its four strikeouts with a walk.

Although they have been forced to work an AL-leading 264 innings, the A’s relievers have grouped a respectable 3.99 ERA (No. 8). That number, however, has climbed with each passing month.

Slider: John Axford

Axford (3-2, 5.10 ERA) was saddled with three runs and a blown save without recording an out in his first appearance since allowing two runs in a blown save on Sunday.

Having served up nine runs in his past seven appearances — 3-1/3 innings — the first-year Athletic has lost his grasp on the seventh-inning set-up role. He has also been unable to keep his earned run average — 2.70 on June 12 — from ballooning out of control.

Pitch Out: Staying hot against the G-Men

The series now swings across the Bay to Oakland, as the A’s look for their first ever series sweep of the Giants — in the regular season, that is (ahem, 1989).

The home team will welcome the return of rookie lefty Sean Manaea (2-4, 6.02 ERA), shelved since June 14 with a forearm strain, in Wednesday’s tilt. Things will get decidedly more difficult on Thursday, however, as SF ace Madison Bumgarner (8-4, 1.99 ERA) will take the hill looking to either stave off a sweep or seal a split.

Bumgarner, who is 2-2 with a 5.06 in four career starts against the A’s, suffered his worst start since mid-April in his last time out — three earned runs in 6-1/3.

With the sweltering state of “Swingin’ A’s” offense, though, they will take little consideration in the starter they will stare down. Rather the beach ball he will be tossing.


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.