The Athletics rotation, through much of the first half, was mired in a constant search for consistency. It is safe to say that search is over.
For the third time in four days, an Oakland starter — Brett Anderson this time — flipped seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball. A rotation that had used 12 different starters before the break has used just six since, and that group’s 3.01 second-half ERA is shrinking precipitously.
Oakland starters have surrendered two or fewer runs in 16 of their last 19 games, and for the fourth time in the last six, they held the opposition scoreless. Anderson (W, 3-3, 3.47 ERA) is the owner of two of those starts following his effort Tuesday.
Providing the punch was Khris Davis who received “MVP” chants after clobbering his 38th home run as the A’s (76-50) clinched their fourth-straight series victory with a 6-0 drubbing of the Rangers (56-72).
Davis, who finished 22nd in the American League MVP race last season, said he was appreciative of the special feeling brought on by the chants, but his focus is elsewhere:
“I try not to make it a big deal. … Helping this team win ball games is my main focus, just getting to the playoffs.”
Manager Bob Melvin was visibly irritated by the fact that his incredibly consistent slugger has not yet found his way into national discussions regarding the race:
“I’m hearing some talk on some national broadcasts about MVPs and his name isn’t is not even brought up. I mean, how can you not (consider him). What is he, second in the league in RBIs (tied for first) in homers, it’s ridiculous that he’s not part of that conversation.”
Davis, who slugged 40 ore more homers and drive in 100 or more runs in each of his first two seasons with the A’s, now sits at 38 dingers, tied with Boston’s J.D. Martinez for the league lead, and a league-best 102 RBIs after three more Tuesday.
Along with the always present power numbers, Davis has upped his average and is now batting .263 this season, 13 points higher than his career average, including .287 (35-for-122) with runners in scoring position. Those improved approach showed up Tuesday, along with the power, when Davis battled out of a 1-2 deficit before sending the seventh pitch of his fifth-inning at-bat into center for an RBI single.
“One thing he’s doing is getting better, every year he’s gotten better with us. … That club really wasn’t in his bag for a while, and how he has that, too.”
Anderson, who has spent 10 seasons in the big leagues with five different clubs, said that his teammate belongs in the equation, adding that guys just don’t hit the ball the way he does:
“He’s a joke. The ball comes off his bat differently from pretty much anybody I’ve ever seen … I’m glad on this side and not the other side.”
Anderson’s dominance on the mound is more than just a story of one or two solid outings. The 30-year-old southpaw has allowed just 12 hits and two runs in four August starts — 26-2/3 innings (0.68 ERA).
Tuesday night was more of the same for Anderson: a low-90s fastball with pinpoint location used to set up a mid-80s slider hiding behind a changeup of the same velocity but opposite movement. And not only were the Rangers unable to create solid contact, they were unable to put forward solid swings. Anderson finished his outing with six strikeouts and one walk, retiring the final 12 batters he faced.
Melvin, who coached Anderson in his first stint with the A’s, said that his growth has been impressive. That growth, Anderson said, is predicated on necessity following Tommy John surgery and multiple back injuries:
“I throw a lot slower now. … I don’t have 95 in the tank so I have to keep them guessing and try to keep the ball off the barrel. … It’s the evolution of being injured and getting older, and stuff like that. Adapt or die.”
Anderson said that the rotation is riding on competition right now, that none of the starters want to be the weak link. For Melvin, that has created an issue he didn’t figure likely earlier this season:
“We have this bullpen we put together to go out there and shorten games and all our starters are doing is going out there and not allowing the bullpen guys to pitch.”
The night went a bit differently for Texas rookie Ariel Jurado (L, 2-2, 6.40 ERA) who yielded four runs on a career-high 10 hits in his 5-2/3 innings.
Jurado, though, does have a claim that few of his staff mates can stake: after seeing him three times, the Panamanian right-hander has not allowed a home run to Davis.
Davis has not only homered four times in the past three days, after a two-run bolt (38) in the sixth, he has gone deep 27 times in 52 career games against the Rangers. But his homer was more of frosting on a cake baked with the heat put out by RBIs from Nick Martini, Jed Lowrie and Josh Phegley.
For the third time in as many chances this homestand, the A’s head into Wednesday’s series finale with a chance to sweep. Following losses in their first two, Edwin Jackson (4-2, 2.58 ERA) gets the ball before the A’s head to Minnesota. Texas will counter with lefty Mike Minor (9-6, 4.61 ERA) coming off the disabled list (lower back).
Matt Joyce began his minor league rehab assignment Tuesday playing left field and leading off for Triple-A Nashville. He went 0-for-3 before being pinch-hit for in the eighth. Joyce (lower back) last appeared in an A’s game on July 4. The A’s are expecting Joyce to be part of the first wave of call-ups to join the major league club on Sept. 1, according to manager Bob Melvin. … Melvin said Tuesday that is Paul Blackburn returns to the A’s this season it will be as a reliever. Blackburn (right elbow) has appeared in just seven games (six in the big leagues) this season, having dealt with arm issues all season. … Brett Anderson tied a season high with six strikeouts and has not been scored upon in each of his last three home starts (21-2/3 innings). … After three RBIs Tuesday, Khris Davis has now driven in 102 runs this season. He is the first Athletic to top the 100-RBI mark in three straight seasons since Eric Chávez and Miguel Tejada each did so from 2001-03. … The 76 wins tops the A’s total for the entirety of the 2017 season (75). … Despite the win, the A’s remain tied atop the AL West standings after the Astros 3-2 victory in Seattle.