Inside Pitch: A’s falter against division leaders

After a strong start to the second half, the Oakland Athletics were poised to make a patented late-season run at the postseason. But a 2-4 week against a pair of division leaders has provided another pothole in that path.

The A’s (47-58) came one out short of beating the AL West leading Texas Rangers (62-44) in the first game of the road trip. Following back-to-back wins against the division rivals, they dropped all three at the AL Central leading Cleveland Indians (62-42).

With a prolifically powerful month, Oakland (12) was out-homered only by the Rangers — who tagged the A’s for six of their 16 — and the Detroit Tigers (57-48), who slugged 15. The power was not supported by consistency, however, as their fourth-best (MLB) number of total bases (115) came despite a team average of .255 (No. 11). The team on-base percentage (.297) was tied for seventh-worst in the game.

That home run-dependent offense received little backing from a pitching staff which posted the league’s sixth-highest ERA (4.98). The staff also allowed 13 homers (T-most), while its three blown saves were also tied for the most in the majors.

Fastball: posting power numbers

Led by Khris Davis (3), Josh Reddick (2), Marcus Semien (2) and Coco Crisp (2) the A’s slugged 12 home runs, but came up just a few feet shy of a three-run go-ahead homer from Reddick in the ninth inning of their 5-3 loss in Cleveland on Friday. They also saw closer Ryan Madson (3-4, 3.89 ERA) give up a walk-off bomb to Adrian Beltre and Rangers in their lone loss in the “Lone Star State.”

Heading into the week, Oakland had slugged 97 big flys. After it, though, they have moved into the league’s top 20. The team’s home run (26) and RBI (68) leader, Davis has moved into the AL’s top 10 in both categories.

Changeup: Reddick finishes time as Athletic with potent week

Prior to being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday, Reddick (.296/.368/.449 season slash) went 8-for-26 (.308) with two home runs and Oakland’s only stolen base. He also drove in five runs and scored five more, while coming up mere feet from a ninth-inning homer to end the game on Friday.

He was a driving force behind both wins in Texas — going 4-for-8 with a homer, three RBIs and two runs scored in those games — keeping fading postseason hopes alive in his final week in the green and gold (in this stint, as least).

In five seasons (596 games) with the A’s, the right fielder batted .257 with 84 home runs and 300 RBIs — a 162-game average of 23 homers and 82 RBIs. In 2012, he also brought the A’s their first Gold Glove Award since the departure of Eric Chavez.

Curveball: Valencia continues to lose ABs

Stand-out slugger Danny Valencia (.302/.353/.481) could scare up only 11 at-bats in the week, despite an impressive 2-for-4, three-RBI night night in Monday’s loss.

The former All-Star hopeful has started just 10 of the team’s 16 games since the break. His fall-off in playing time has coincided with the call-up of Ryon Healy (.241/.268/.407), who has fallen on hard times since his red-hot start. Valencia was not deemed a tradeable commodity, given the value of his production, and the lack of any reappearance of his checkered past of attitude problems — not evident within the Oakland clubhouse.

The soon-to-be 32-year-old third baseman has expressed interest in signing an extension with the team — he has also proven willing to play any position the team needs him to. If he continues to watch games, rather than play them, it will be interesting to see if his interest in the team diminishes.

Sinker: Pitching the problem

In 50-2/3 innings, the Oakland pitching staff allowed 60 hits while walking 17 — a sub-par 1.52 WHIP.

The season-long scuffle of Sonny Gray (5-10, 5.84 ERA) continued, after a quality start to begin the week, serving up seven runs in 3-1/3 at Cleveland. In all, Gray was tagged for 10 of the staff’s 31 earned runs allowed in the week (5.51 ERA). Even the staff’s hottest starter, Kendall Graveman (7-7, 4.15 ERA), was saddled with a loss — his first since May 19 — for his four runs allowed — most he’s allowed since June 28 — in 6-1/3 against the Indians.

Slider: Smolinski hits on hard times

Jake Smolinski (.298/.352/.489) was coming off a week in which he batted .500, and collected at least one hit in each game. Going 2-for-20 (.100) against his former team, the Rangers, and Indians he was unable to keep his average from falling below the .300 line.

The new center fielder also grounded into two double plays in five games, after grounding into two in 45 previous games. He went without an RBI and scored just one run, despite batting in his new spot as the two-hole hitter, while striking out more times (4) than he walked (1).

In all measurable offensive categories, the 27 year-old had his worst week of the season. A week that culminated in former center fielder Billy Burns being traded to the Kansas City Royals.

Pitch out: Chasing Angels in Anaheim before coming home to face the Cubs

In a battle of AL West cellar dwellers, the A’s will look to move back ahead of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (47-58) in a three-game set in southern California. In 10 previous meetings, Oakland has gone 4-6, but won three of four meetings at Angel Stadium.

Despite the teams’ identical records, the strengths and weaknesses of the two do not match up. The Angels team average (.269) is second-best in the AL and 19 points ahead of the A’s, who have hit 17 more home runs (113) than their rivals. It has been the high average that has produced runs, of which Anaheim (485) has scored 57 more. The two pitching staffs have the 14th- (A’s, 4.66) and 13-highest (Angels, 4.38) ERAs in the American League.

The Green and Gold return home from the current three-city, nine-game road trip to face the Chicago Cubs (64-41), who boast the league’s best record, to initiate a 10-game home stand.

With a postseason berth growing less and less likely, particularly due to the struggles of the current trip, September call-ups may begin in August. Perhaps, during the coming stand.


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.