Inside Pitch: Bullpen falters, A’s drop 4 of 7

The All-Star break will likely bring trade offers to the Oakland Athletics front office, as the team heads into the season’s midway point 13 games below .500.

Oakland had a chance to end the unofficial first half within nine games of the 50-50 mark, but a pair of blown-save losses to the Houston Astros (48-41) were their undoing.

In scoring 16 runs in a four-get set at the Astros, and seven runs over three games in Minnesota (32-56), the A’s (38-51) scored just 3.3 runs per game over the week-long roadie. With the help of six perfect performances by the defense, Oakland starters handed their bullpen five leads despite the lack of run support. The relievers, though, finished the week with an unimpressive 3-for-5 hold rate.

Fastball: Defense picks it clean

Lest a four-error debacle in Sunday’s 2-1 loss in Houston, the Athletic defense was flawless. With their six error-free games the defense reached a total of 15 consecutive perfect outings.

Led by shortstop Marcus Semien — who heads into the break with just nine errors one year after having 28 first-half kicks — the defense has become a key cog in the team’s flurries of success.

Changeup: Graveman finds fabulous form

Kendall Graveman (5-6, 4.37 ERA) picked up two wins while allowing just three runs over 14-2/3 innings.

Not only did Graveman find the grandest of his own ground, he became the first Green and Gold starter to throw a pitch in the ninth inning. With eight innings of two-run work in Saturday’s 3-2 win, the 25-year-old right-hander produced Oakland’s best start.

He also lowered his own ERA — which was 5.49 on June 4 — by more than a full run over the past month.

Over the seven-day stretch, the Alabama native led all major league pitchers in innings pitched while posting a highly respectable ERA (1.84) and WHIP (0.82).

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Curveball: Speed kills

A’s batteries were busted for six stolen bases, while not catching a single attempted thief. Oakland base runners responded with just one stolen base of their own — Jake Smolinski (1).

Thus far in 2016, Athletics pitcher-catcher duos have surrendered just 41 stolen bags (T-7th fewest in AL). During the first half’s final week, though, their six swiped are tied for the third-most in the AL.

Runnin’ A’s have taken just 36 extra bags (No. 10 AL).

Sinker: Bullpen relinquishing instead of relieving

The bullpen’s two blown saves tied for the most in baseball — behind only the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves with three apiece — over the seven days.

The group’s 2016 save conversion percentage (68.57) is seventh-highest in the AL, while its ERA (4.31) is fourth-highest and its WHIP (1.31) is the AL’s median. The relief corps, which was dominant in the season’s first month, has hit several speed bumps. Part of the bullpen struggles fall on its AL-leading 303 innings pitched.

Serving as the bullpen’s sole example of consistency, Ryan Dull (2-2, 2.01 ERA) saw his historic first half come to a muffled end when he allowed an inherited runner to score in the ninth inning on Saturday. It is the only such runner to score in what is now 38 attempts — the 36-for-36 is a record to start a season. After throwing just 17 frames in 2015, Dull looks likely to garner some consideration for Rookie of the Year.

Slider: Madson scuffles

Closer Ryan Madson (4-2, 3.62 ERA) suffered his fourth and fifth blown saves of the season in Houston.

The 35-year-old departed Minnesota with a 2.83 ERA, but four earned runs in 2-1/3 innings against the Astros has ballooned that number, which was sub-2.00 as recently as May 23.

Pitch out: Much-needed break

Needing a few days to lick their wounds, after splitting four games with a division rival despite handing the bullpen a lead in each, the All-Star Break couldn’t have come at a better time for the A’s.

When they get back to work, though, they will dive directly into the deep end as Toronto Blue Jays (51-40) come to town.

When the two teams met previously, the Blue Jays offense unloaded on Oakland pitching to the tune of six home runs in three games. Toronto will send the American League’s second-highest scoring offense (441 runs) — second-most powerful (130 home runs) — to the Coliseum.

On the positive side, the Canadian club is the last team against which Sonny Gray (3-8, 5.16 ERA) collected a win — on April 22.

The series could give the hometown fans one last chance to watch some of their favorite A’s with the trade deadline quickly approaching.


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.