Baseball’s best team, with the game’s best pitching staff, came into Oakland and made it their own. With a 3-1 victory on Sunday afternoon, the Chicago Cubs finished off an impressive sweep of the Athletics.
Starter Sean Manaea offered a sufficient start, lasting six strong innings and saddled with just two runs in a losing effort. For the second straight day, however, the offense was held down, this time by Kyle Hendricks who did not allow a runner to reach second until an eighth-inning homer from Marcus Semien.
Of his A’s (48-63), who have dropped eight of their last nine, manager Bob Melvin said that inconsistency, particularly on offense, is to blame:
“That’s why you lose games. We’ve had some decent pitching performances, certainly today, but we couldn’t do enough offensively to put any pressure on — score some more runs — and give him some help.”
The offense could not figure out the Cubs’ pitching staff, which boasts baseball’s lowest team ERA (3.15), throughout the series. Tossing out their third ace, Hendricks (W, 11-7, 2.17 ERA), the “North Siders” finished the weekend allowing just three runs in the three games.
After losing 7-2 on Friday things only got worse. Hendricks finished his 7-1/3-inning outing with a modest four strikeouts, but allowed just three hits. He has given up just four runs in the past month.
Melvin said that his the offense’s struggles were magnified by the pitching they faced:
“They have five strong starting pitchers, but we got their top three and they’ve been pitching well — Hendricks probably pitching the best leading up into the game.”
Manaea (L, 3-7, 4.58 ERA), who finished the sixth but never got an out in the seventh allowing six hits while striking out four, matched the Cub righty early, although he was forced to work much harder. The labor started in the second, when he struck out Willson Contreras and Javier Baez to strand a pair.
The situation got even more sticky in the third, when a lead-off double from nine-hole Matt Szczur was followed by back-to-back walks. A pair of quick-handed plays from first baseman Yonder Alonso, though, guided the “Throwin’ Samoan” out of harm’s way.
After making a clean pickup and throw home to cut down Szczur, Alonso snagged a low liner before pouncing quickly to the bag for a double play. Through the first three innings Manaea had allowed six base runners — four hits and two walks — without a single run crossing the plate.
As he has admitted to be the problem in the past, Manaea said lapses in concentration allowed his location to suffer. But, he said, he reined in his focus after the laborious third:
“After I got out of the jam, that’s when I really sat in the dugout and told myself ‘you’ve got to really focus here if you want to go more than three or four innings.’ After that second and third inning, I felt like I really calmed down and was able to locate a lot better.”
Unable to push across any runs through extended rallies, Chicago fell back on the home run ball, of which Oakland’s rookie left-hander has been prone to allow — serving up 16 now, in just 98-1/3 innings.
Ambushing the first pitch of the sixth, a fastball, 2015 National League Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant launched a solo homer (27) to break up the scoreless tie. Designated hitter Jorge Soler led off the seventh with a home run of his own (7).
The skipper said despite the duo of dingers, he feels Manaea has done an good job of limiting the long ball:
“I think it was more of an issue for him early on. … If you’re only giving up two good swings, even if they end up being home runs, you can’t really say you didn’t pitch well. He’s been much better, recently.”
Semien’s one-out solo homer (23) in the eighth inning gave him his second hit on the afternoon, preventing a second consecutive shutout.
Of Hendricks’ dominance, Semien said:
“He’s a little different, because he throws more changeups to righties. He’s got a cutter, a curveball and a sinker — his bread and butter — which he can throw with pinpoint accuracy. It’s tough to stay on one thing.”
The A’s will look to get back into the win column on Monday, when they welcome in the AL East leading Baltimore Orioles (63-47). Toeing the rubber for the first of four will be Kendall Graveman (7-7, 4.46 ERA) facing Kevin Gausman (3-8, 4.08 ERA).