Inside pitch: A’s take four of seven in rivalry week
As Oakland’s diminished postseason hopes fade into the ether, the Athletics enjoyed success in their own personal world series.
After splitting four with the cross-Bay Giants, the A’s (50-62) snaked two 0f three from the cross-state Angels. It did little good in the scheme of their playoff aspirations, as the green and gold remains 7-1/2 games and nine slots out or playoff positioning.
Fastball: Late-inning offense
In their four wins, the A’s outscored the opposition 10-2 in the seventh inning and later.
It was insurance runs in Monday and Wednesday’s wins — 8-5 and 6-1, respectively — but in Sunday’s week-clinching win, a single tally in the seventh and five more in the eighth were enough to claim an 11-10 comeback triumph. That magic, though, was dry in Friday’s 8-6 loss to Anaheim when the A’s were outscored 4-0 after the sixth.
Oakland is home to the fourth-lowest scoring offense in the American League (4.37 runs per game), but in those late-game situations the A’s offense jumps three spots to the middle of the pack — scoring 1.36 runs in the final three frames — bolstered by the third-most power (50 home runs).
Chad Pinder was a key contributor in each of the three late-inning rallies. Fresh off a five-week stint on the disabled list, Pinder went 3-for-4 with a home run (10), two RBIs and three runs scored.
The season-long late-game offensive potency has not been enough to counter a pitching deficiency — 1.57 runs per game allowed.
Changeup: Rookie sensation
The A’s were led to their four-win week by rookie hurler Paul Blackburn, who tallied two wins.
He was the beneficiary of an eight-run outburst, led by a Marcus Semien grand slam, in Monday’s victory. But in the week’s lone run-away victory — 5-0 on Saturday — it was Blackburn (3-1, 1.60 ERA) who carried the load, silencing the Angel offense over 6-2/3.
Blackburn has been the most consistent starter since he was called up July 1, pitching into the sixth inning in each start and leaving his club a lead upon his departure in five of seven.
In a season that began with Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton in the Opening Day rotation, and top prospects A.J. Puk and Daniel Gossett waiting in the wings, Blackburn has emerged as a stud and set himself up to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter of the future.
Curveball: Alonso moved within the division
In the midst of a career-best campaign, Alonso had shown interest in signing a long-term extension with the A’s. In exchange for the breakout first baseman, Oakland acquired their own former draft choice — 20th round in the 2012 draft — Boog Powell.
Powell, 24, boasts a career .306/.391/.396 slash in six minor league seasons. Making his major league debut this season for the M’s, the outfielder showed little contact — going 7-for-36 (.194) in 23 games — and even less power — not collecting a single extra-base hit.
The Mariners, who are one game out in the Wild Card race, supplant their offense at a position (first base) in which they have enjoyed little production — .253 average, 13 homers and 57 RBIs.
Sinker: Stomped-out starters
Outside of a pair of dominating from Gossett and Blackburn, Oakland starters served up 23 earned runs in 19-2/3 innings (10.53 ERA).
Kendall Graveman was shelled for seven runs in a 2-inning return from the disabled list and Manaea was tagged with 12 runs (seven earned) in 6-1/3 over two starts. Even Blackburn was credited with five earnies in 6-1/3 innings of work against the Giants in a winning effort.
The rotation has been a source of strength for the A’s all season, pitching to a 4.61 ERA through the first 112 games — good enough for eighth-best in the AL.
Slider: Joyce’s troubles spill outside of the lines
Matt Joyce brings plus power numbers — 14 homers, 34 extra-base hits — into the final 50 games of the season. But his average (.227), on-base percentage (.336) and slugging percentage (.421) are each below his career averages.
Expected to be the every day right fielder and two-hole hitter, the 10-year veteran has suffered through two-thirds of a lost season.
On Friday, his problems escaped the field of play. In a verbal altercation with a fan in Anaheim, Joyce used a homosexual slur. The next day, he issued a seven-part twitter apology:
“In regard to last night’s incident, I sincerely apologize to the fans, the Oakland A’s, MLB and the most importantly the LGBTQ community for my comments and actions. A fan yelled vulgar and obscene words about me and my family and I let my frustrations and emotions get the better of me. I am beyond sorry for the inappropriate language that I used and understand and agree that those words should NEVER come out of someone’s mouth no matter the situation. Anyone who knows me will tell you that it is not reflective of me as a person, how I treat others, how I live my life and that those hurtful words are not my views. I fully support and hope to help the LGBTQ community with their efforts in being treated fairly. I intend to let my actions speak louder than anything more that can be said about this truly regrettable moment.”
Regardless of his statement, though, Joyce was suspended (without pay) for two games by the A’s, saying via press release:
“The Oakland Athletics are very disappointed by the comments Matt Joyce made to a fan during the 8th inning of last night’s game. This language is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by our team. We pride ourselves on being inclusive and expect our entire organization to live up to higher standards. We appreciate that Matt is contrite about his conduct and know he will learn from this incident.”
Pitch-out: Welcoming back an All-Star
Alonso returns to his home of the past 1-1/2 seasons as the A’s welcome the M’s (57-56) into town for two games, followed by four with the Baltimore Orioles (55-56).
Now, with what little playoff hopes they have disappearing in the distance, the fun becomes a matter of eliminating others from the race. And the first swing will be teed up by a divisional rival. But that won’t be the last. Of their 16 series’ left on the schedule, 11 will come against teams currently in the thick of the race for October.