Sunday was quite a nerve-wracking day for the Oakland Athletics. The A’s entered play in a collective funk, having lost the first three games of the four-game home set against the Baltimore Orioles and eight of their previous nine contests overall.
To say that Sunday’s tilt was a must-win game could have been an overstatement—but nobody would exactly argue against that sentiment. A loss would have given the Athletics a 13-13 record—a dismal free fall from their 12-4 start.
Instead, Oakland managed to pull out the victory, 9-8, in prototypical come-from-behind A’s fashion, salvaging a lone game in the series, but more importantly, stopping the bleeding to their wounded pride, if only for a moment. A 14-12 record surely looks and feels better.
Still, Baltimore came to Oakland and nearly took the entire series.
Thankfully, the Athletics’ exciting win does overshadow somewhat the tepid performances during the first three games of the series—ending on a high note will do that.
But there is no mistaking the overall disappointing stretch the A’s have found themselves in. Still, though one breathtaking win does not atone for the previous failures, hopefully the manner in which the A’s won will give them some confidence from the glory days of 2012 and provide momentum moving forward.
Here are five things we learned from Oakland’s series versus Baltimore.
Starting pitching has always been Oakland’s strength. The team prides itself on being stocked with a full arsenal of great pitchers.
This year was supposed to see a magnificent development of a young starting staff that finished last season with the American League’s second-best ERA. Things could only get better for the talented starting core. And early this season, that prediction was turning out to be a valid one.
Through Oakland’s first 16 games, its starting pitchers collected a remarkable 11 quality starts (minimum six inning pitched, allowing three or fewer earned runs).
However, in the 10 games since, A’s starters have only three quality starts. It’s no coincidence that the team is 2-8 during that stretch. The Athletics cherish relying upon their elite starting pitching, but they’ve shown that when they're not pitching well, they are not successful.
In the past 10 days, Oakland starters have a 5.84 ERA. This series versus Baltimore was only slightly better: Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin and Bartolo Colon gathered a 5.40 ERA in four games. Oakland has dropped to 11th in the AL in team ERA, and its starters have a collective 4.90 ERA with a .281 opponents’ batting average.
If the A’s are to get back to their winning ways, they need their starters to put up consistently strong performances. Unfortunately, the Orioles showed that the Athletics’ starting pitchers are currently the team’s weakest link.
A significant amount of the damage to the A’s starters was done by Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth.
The left-handed hitter torched right-handed starters Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and Bartolo Colon, going 9-for-15 in three starts against the A’s this series. This was not surprising, considering McLouth is batting .375 for the season against righties.
Against Oakland, McLouth hammered two doubles, a home run, drove in five runs, scored seven runs and even stole three bases. The dude nearly won the entire series by himself. It was truly an exciting display put on by the veteran left fielder.
McLouth presently ranks fifth in the American League in batting average (.351), fourth in runs scored (21) and second in stolen bases (eight).
Not bad for a platoon player.
For those West Coasters who are not familiar with the Baltimore Orioles, meet center fielder Adam Jones.
The 27-year-old had a breakout season in 2012, earning his second MLB All-Star Game appearance and a Gold Glove, helping him place sixth in the AL MVP race. His 32 home runs, 103 runs scored and all-around play helped propel the surprising Orioles to a playoff berth last year and thrust him into the spotlight as one of the league’s great young outfielders.
For Oakland fans, this series was only a small sample of how talented he is. In the four-game set, Jones went 7-for-18 with a home run, two doubles, four RBI and four runs scored. He currently is ranked fourth in the league in batting average (.352), tied for second in doubles (10) and runs scored (22) and fifth in RBI (25).
Truly, Jones is further cementing his status as a star and is a potential MVP candidate again this season.
A’s fans are simply glad the series is over and that he’s gone.
While the A’s as a team have struggled a bit offensively over the past week, one player has been carrying a hot bat. Josh Donaldson has been steadily climbing, and the series against Baltimore shot his batting average up to a season-high .319.
Against the O’s, Donaldson was the only consistent threat in the A’s lineup. He finished the series 7-for-13 with six runs batted in and three doubles. The young third baseman now ranks ninth in the American League in RBI with 18 and tied for second with 10 doubles.
After a sluggish start to the season, Donaldson is now carrying the load offensively for Oakland. And his consistency deserves a move up in the lineup.
For the season, Donaldson is batting .409 with runners on base and .435 with runners in scoring position. His maturation at the plate should be rewarded, and Donaldson could offer some protection to Yoenis Cespedes, who returned to the lineup on Sunday.
Yoenis Cespedes returned to the lineup following a 15-game stint on the disabled list, and he came back with a bang.
The slugger mashed a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against Orioles reliever Brian Matusz, sending the game into extra innings, where the A’s won 9-8. Cespedes’ remarkable talent was on display again, further proof that the team is most successful when the 27-year-old is healthy and on the field.
This season, Oakland is sporting a 9-2 record with Cespedes in the lineup and a mere 5-10 without him.
If the Athletics are going to have a chance at sniffing a second consecutive postseason berth, Cespedes needs to be fully healthy. His ability at the plate, especially during the most crucial times, is what makes him so dynamic and important to the team. Sunday’s performance is a prime example of what he means to this A’s ballclub.
He is, without a doubt, the team’s most valuable player. Healthy or not. Preferably healthy.
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