The road to success is always under construction.
That’s what the Oakland Athletics found out this week during their visit up the East Coast—a road trip that resulted in five losses in six games at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox. It was a quaking wake-up call for an A’s team that began the road trip as the American League’s hottest team, sitting atop the West division and maintaining the league’s most productive offense. All of a sudden, Bam!, the A’s take a few punches to the gut, and now they’re a ball club that’s seen as less extraordinary.
Road trips can do that. They can suck the wind out of the sail, killing all forward progress, highlighting a team’s inadequacies and sharpening all naysayers’ criticism. And that’s what this six-game swing did for Oakland. It knocked the A’s off their boost in a fashion that left the young squad thoroughly humbled on their way back to the Bay Area.
The road trip ended on Wednesday with a 6-5 loss to the Red Sox, capping a series in which Boston took two of three. Here are five things learned from the three-game set against the host Sawx.
Dating back to his debut late last season, right-hander A.J. Griffin has been the Athletics’ most steady starting pitcher. No, he hasn’t become so through decidedly dominating performances; but the youngster has been quite consistent thus far in his brief MLB career, posting a 9-2 overall record in just 19 starts.
This season, Griffin quickly picked up where he left off last October. In his first three starts, he tallied a 2-0 record with a 2.25 ERA. However, his most recent appearance didn’t go smoothly, as the Red Sox shelled him to the tune of nine runs on eight hits—two home runs, including a grand slam—in four tortuous innings. Griffin’s ERA rose to a healthy 4.50 as a result.
To be fair, this was Griffin’s first career appearance at famed Fenway Park. And any pitcher can and will get knocked around in its pinball-machine confines. So, it’s not exactly surprising to see a young pitcher get lit up.
Still, the A’s were reeling in Griffin’s Monday start, coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays. It would have been a true showcase of his resolve to become the stopper and get the team back on track.
Instead, the Sawx battered Griffin around, a collective finger-wag at a spritely A’s squad looking to regain its footing and stop the bleeding. Griffin was the wounded warrior, in a rare glimpse of vulnerability. Hopefully for him, it’s just one bad start in an otherwise good season.
In actuality, the Athletics’ most consistent starter this season has been veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon. The soon-to-be 40-year-old has been completely amazing, especially considering his lack of MLB participation during a 50-game absence while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drug use that carried over from 2012.
Through four starts in 2013, Colon is lugging a slim 2.42 ERA and 0.92 WHIP to go with his 3-0 record. Included is Tuesday night’s 13-0 Colon-oscopy in which he gave up three hits in seven innings—a complete-game shutout due to the rain stoppage.
Colon was intended to be the throw-in, back-of-the-rotation veteran that would complement a budding starting staff that was to shoulder the brunt of responsibility in the team’s quest for a second consecutive division title. Instead, he has proven to be the pace setter, as the talented young colts (Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin) have been somewhat slow out of the stable.
Colon’s start was the only game the A’s won on this past road trip. And his gem showed that presently he is the ace of the staff.
Yes, do the A’s miss Yoenis Cespedes. Especially with outfielder Chris Young performing the way he has so far this season.
Fact: It’s only April; and there are, like, 140 more games left to play.
Fact: Young is making the jump from the National League to the American League; so there is some familiarization to new pitching that he still needs to go through.
Fact: He is batting .174, with a .690 OPS and 18 strikeouts in 69 at-bats.
With Cespedes still shelved on the disabled list, Young has seen his playing time increase over the past couple of weeks. Unfortunately, that growth has led to a shrinking batting average. This road trip only exacerbated Young’s slumping season thus far, as he went 2-for-15 in five games against Tampa Bay and Boston pitching. However, in Wednesday’s tilt, Young mashed two home runs and drove in four runs. Is this the start of a hot streak for the struggling 29-year-old?
Young is still adjusting to new pitchers, new style stadia and a new style of baseball. There is some leeway that goes along with the learning curve he is facing. And A’s skipper Bob Melvin—who also managed Young in Arizona—will definitely give him that slack. But Young was supposed to provide the Athletics with depth at the outfield position; and so far this season, he’s been a shallow shadow of what he was brought in to be.
The A’s need for Young to turn his season around. Hopefully Wednesday’s performance is just the beginning.
Last year, the Oakland A’s looked as though they came up huge by trading away All-Star reliever Andrew Bailey to the Boston Red Sox. The featured pieces the Athletics received in return were Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss, two very important keys to the team’s playoff run. Bailey, meanwhile, battled through injuries and finished the 2012 campaign with a ghastly 7.04 ERA in only 15.1 innings pitched.
What a difference a year makes.
Now, Bailey’s back to full strength, and he’s better than ever. In 12 appearances, the 28-year-old has a 1-0 record with a 1.59 ERA, five saves and 20 strikeouts in 11.1 innings. In Boston’s series with Oakland, the right-hander made two appearances, collected two saves, and struck out five of the seven batters he faced.
The A’s know first-hand that a healthy Bailey is a dangerous one, which bodes well for the Red Sox. Too bad for Oakland he had to be healthy right now.
Make no mistake: The Athletics had every right to be satiated with confidence entering this six-game road trip. They had the league’s best record and had far and away the most balanced and prolific lineup. A week ago, all looked great for the reigning AL West champs.
But that was then. This is now.
Against the Tampa Bay Rays, the A’s completely floundered. Their bats were stung hard by Rays pitching, Moreover, Oakland was supposed to thoroughly dominate a Tampa Bay offense that was, at the time, the worst in the league. But last weekend resulted in Bizarro World, with the Rays sweeping the Athletics by a combined score of 17-4. It was an ugly, ugly series. The lone bright spot was starter Jarrod Parker’s magnificent performance on Saturday, as he attempted to execute a U-turn to his otherwise poor season.
Unfortunately for the A’s, Boston was only a tad more inviting as hosts. Oakland managed to take one game—a 13-0 whitewashing on Tuesday evening. In the rest of the series, however, Athletics pitchers could not keep Red Sox bats quiet enough, and Oakland limps away having lost five of six.
Baseball is six months of ebbs and flows, ups and downs. This road trip is one of those troughs that the team has to ride out. Many good things can be identified despite the resulting defeats. Parker’s start was outstanding. Outfielder Josh Reddick appears to be slowly climbing his way out of the offensive nadir. Bartolo Colon is at the top of his game. And the A’s offense managed 24 runs scored, 27 hits and 22 bases on balls against Red Sox pitching—so it wasn’t as if they were completely shut down.
Still, this road trip demonstrated the obvious, and that in order to truly succeed, the A’s need to be a complete team—one that is armed with good pitching. The team’s bread and butter has been somewhat inconsistent. Hopefully for the pitching staff, the comforts of the Coliseum will help them get back on track.
Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue