Inside Pitch: A’s show their best, but not all at once

The Oakland Athletics displayed the best they have in every facet of the game.

Pitching. Hitting. Fielding. The A’s (52-66) had everything going at one point or another during their most recent week. Because they weren’t able to group the three areas together, however, they settled for a 4-3 record against a pair of postseason contenders.

After taking the first three against the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles (66-51) in low-scoring scraps — with a combined score of 6-3 — behind dominant pitching, they lost a 9-6 slugfest, despite two home runs. Riding the big bat of Khris Davis, Oakland scored 13 runs in a weekend set with the Wild Card-hopeful Seattle Mariners, but saw the pitching tagged for 15 in dropping two of three.

As they move ever closer to September call-ups, the A’s will switch their focus to building on positives and preparing for the introduction of new faces. And, maybe, destroying the postseason aspirations of others.

Fastball: Lean on “D”

The one constant of the week was the defense, which committed just one error — a bobble by Coco Crisp in Thursday’s loss to Baltimore.

While that error led to a pair of unearned runs, it did not have a direct impact on the final score, unlike a relay made by a pair of out-of-position players to cut down a run at home in the first inning of Oakland’s 1-0 win on Wednesday.

Danny Valencia, who also cut down a runner at second with a throw from the unfamiliar right-field position, fed pivot-man and second baseman Max Muncy — normally in the outfield — from the warning track. In denying Adam Jones, the surprising duo played the biggest role, lest the pitcher Ross Detwiler (1-0, 2.13 ERA) in the one-run victory.

Led by numerous gems from Gold Glove-hopeful first baseman Yonder Alonso, the A’s “D” combined for six double plays and thee outfield assists.

Changeup: “Khrush” Davis touches 30

With home runs in each of the three games against the Mariners, Davis (.254/.294/.516 2016 slash) became the first Athletic to reach 30 homers in a season since Brandon Moss in 2013. With the mark, the 28 year-old has already cracked his career high — formerly 27 — and is on pace to be the first “Swingin’ ‘A'” to reach the 40-mark since Jason Giambi did so in 2000.

Providing more than just the long ball, the Davis finished the week with a .316/.333/.789 slash and six RBIs.

Curveball: Taking the close ones

Just one year removed from a league-worst 19-35 record in one-run games, the Green and Gold have made taking those contests a strength. After their 3-1 week they now stand at 19-18 — good enough for fourth-best in the American League.

The complete turnaround from a season ago has been led by a rebuilt bullpen and the addition of clutch hitting — much of which the team has control of through 2017.

Sinker: Struggling with men on

In seven games, Oakland left 45 runners on base (6.43 per game). By comparison, the Mariners and Orioles combined to leave just 27 on (3.86).

It should be noted, though, that the home team’s struggles came despite their batting 13-for-45 (.289) with runners in scoring position. But, being outscored 27-25 over the course of the week shows the significance of the A’s leaving more than 2.5 runs on base per game.

Slider: Smol’s bat pulls disappearing act

Center fielder Jake Smolinski (.275/.342/.425) continued to play his solid defense. But, going 4-for-20 (.200) with a single RBI, fell from the top of the order. While he has had a productive season, the final six weeks of the season will serve as his audition for a starting role in 2017.

The career .258 hitter was hitting at a .300-clip just two weeks ago, but has seen the average plummet. He is batting .194 in August.

Pitch out: Playing the spoiler

Oakland sits at 16-1/2 games out of the first-place spot in the AL West with 44 games left. They are also 14 games out of the second Wild Card position. It has become time to play the role of spoiler.

The division leading Texas Rangers (69-50) — up by just 5-1/2 games on Seattle — are next up on the schedule. From Arlington, the A’s will fly to Chicago to face the White Sox (56-61).

With the Rangers set to close out the month with seven potential postseason showdowns (including three against the Mariners), the green and gold could set in motion a 2012-esque Texas-sized collapse. On their last legs of competition, teams can find the drive in knowing that quality play could ruin the season of a rival.

The chance to do exactly that awaits in Chicago. With the “Pale Hosers” just nine games back in the Wild Card race, a series loss to the A’s could be damning.

In the past seven games, Oakland has shown the skills to play the spoiler role. The trick will be to put them together.


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.