By Morris Phillips
Not the day to be north of the border with an important appointment with AL pitcher of the moment Robbie Ray.
For the A’s, not at all.
The last time–and only other time–they saw Ray, he was trying to string together victories for the first time this season and admittedly struggling with fastball command. Ray of May 4, 2021 allowed solo shots to Matt Chapman and Ramon Laureano, but didn’t falter much more than that in a six-inning stint that was slightly above pedestrian, but only nabbed him a no-decision.
Fast forward four months and Ray’s fastball-slider repertoire is top shelf, well known for fooling AL batters from coast-to-coast. On Sunday, he mesmerized the A’s without allowing a hit through five innings, and striking out 10 in before being lifted after 107 pitches in the seventh.
“He’s probably the best pitcher in baseball right now, from what I’ve seen,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said of Ray. “When he takes that mound, everybody feels he’s going to give you a chance.”
With Ray pinpointing mid-90’s fastballs on both sides of the plate, the Blue Jays cruised, winning 8-0, and sweeping the A’s in the process. Oakland’s struggling, to term it kindly, having lost 14 of 20, and probably consecutive losses away from being a footnote in the AL Wild Card chase that’s gotten away from them.
The A’s managed just two hits on the afternoon, but tellingly, that wasn’t their low light. Starter Cole Irvin didn’t survive three innings–the shortest start of his career–and left trailing 7-0 after surrendering home runs to Marcus Semien and Alejandro Kirk. That early deficit left the A’s in an impossible spot, regardless of Ray’s presence, but did take the pressure off their leaky bullpen, which gained some confidence by pitching 5 2/3 innings and allowing just one run.
Coming in the A’s porous relievers had blown seven saves in the previous 13 games. A’s starters haven’t done their part to help that bullpen, having completed just five innings or fewer in 13 of the last 21 games. And the A’s offense has been okay lately, but they haven’t made a habit of striking first, and their herculean comeback efforts have come up short more often than not.
In times like this–with the A’s now four games behind the second Wild Card-seated Red Sox, and having Toronto and Seattle in front of them as well for the first time after Sunday’s results–it’s good to have an unwavering supporter. The A’s have that in manager Bob Melvin.
“I think the best part of our season is yet to come,” Melvin said. “I really do. I think we’re gonna get home and play our best stretch of baseball. We’re gonna get on a run before the season is over and have two teams we need to beat (Seattle and first place Houston) there at the end.”
Getting through the next two weeks comes first for Oakland, and the AL Central-leading White Sox come to the Coliseum on Tuesday to test their resolve. Step one for the A’s: gain traction at home against the Sox and Rangers over the weekend, and stop the bleeding.
And of course, avoid Robbie Ray types.
On Tuesday, the A’s have James Kaprelian in a starting role in a matchup with the White Sox’s starter, who has not been determined as of yet.