A’s Thursday off day report: Preview of A’s-Mariners series starting Friday

By Jerry Feitelberg

The A’s return home after a successful 6-2 road trip. The A’s were beating the Tigers in one game that was suspended due to bad weather. That game will be completed when the Tigers play the A’s in September. The two losses on the trip happened when the A’s played the Mariners in Seattle.

The Mariners and A’s have met four times this season, and the M’s have won them all. The A’s lost the first two in Japan to open the season and the last two in Seattle on May 13th and 14th. The games in Seattle were close. The Mariners won on May 13th 6-5 even though the A’s hit five home runs in that game. They beat the A’s again on May 14th, 4-3. Since that time the A’s won three in Detroit and three in Cleveland.

The A’s have also moved up in the standings in the AL Central. Oakland ‘s record is 25-25, and they are in third place just 1/2 game behind the surprising Texas Rangers. Seattle, on the other hand, played well to start the season but have fallen on hard times. They currently reside in last place in the AL West with a record of 23-29. They have lost 3 in a row and are 3-7 in their previous 10 games.

The Mariners have placed several key players on the 10-day IL. They include second baseman Dee Gordon, first baseman Ryon Healy, pitcher King Felix Hernandez, and third baseman Kyle Seager.

The Mariners still have a potent lineup. First baseman Daniel Vogelbach, DH Edwin Encarnacion, outfielders Jay Bruce, Domingo Santana, and Mitch Haniger all have power, and all of them have hurt the A’s with their bats. Infielder Tim Beckham has also punished the A’s with his power.

The pitching matchups for the series will be the following. On Friday, Oakland will send Daniel Mengden (1-1 3.65 ERA) out to pitch. Mengden is 0-2 with an ERA of 5.89 in four career starts against the Mariners. The Mariners will counter with lefty Wade LeBlanc. LeBlanc, in his last outing against the Minnesota Twins, went 2 and 1/3rd innings and gave up seven hits and seven runs. LeBlanc missed five weeks due to a strained oblique. In two starts against the A’s last year, LeBlanc held the A’s scoreless for eleven innings.

Saturdays’ game will feature Mike Fiers (3-3, 5.05 ERA) going for his fourth win of the year. Fiers has an ERA of 2.53 over his last five starts, and that includes the no-hitter that he had against the Cincinnati Reds. Fiers is 2-2 with an ERA of 6.36 in 10 starts against Seattle. Rookie Yusei Kikuchi (3-1, ERA 3.43) will go for the M’s. Kikuchi is 2-0 with an ERA of 2.03 in his last four starts.

On Sunday, The A’s will have lefty Brett Anderson on the mound. Anderson (5-3, ERA 4.14)is returning to action after he left the game last Monday in Cleveland with a cervical strain. Anderson is 8-5 and has an ERA of 2.38 in 20 games against the M’s. Mike Leake goes for Seattle. Leake is 3-5 for the year and has an ERA of 4.73. Leake is 2-2 against Oakland in nine career starts.

The A’s are playing better as the offense has come alive and the pitching has been better. The A’s have seen improvement from Chris Bassitt, Mike Fiers, and Frankie Montas. Anderson has pitched well, and Mengden is still a work in progress.

Following the three-game series with Seattle, the A’s will face the LA Angels and then host the first-place Houston Astros.

 

Gray’s 12 K’s Not Enough For A’s Against LeBlanc, Halos

By Matthew T.F. Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. – Despite a dominant rebound performance from starter Sonny Gray at the O.Co Coliseum Tuesday night, the Oakland Athletics once again found their efforts to string together three consecutive wins come up short.

After dropping game two of a three game series against the 2014 American League West Champion Los Angeles Angels 2-0, the Green and Gold (86-71) still seek their first uninterrupted trio of wins since August 7-9. Wade LeBlanc pitched 5 2/3 of shutout innings for the Halos, while former Athletic Houston Street nailed down his 40th save of the season after retiring the side in order.

The Athletics loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth inning with reliever Joe Smith on the mound and two men retired, but Stephen Vogt’s fly-out derailed the Oakland rally.

“I left a small village of runners in scoring position tonight,” said Vogt. “It’s really frustrating to not get them in.”

It marked only the second time all night the home team advanced a runner past second base. In total, the A’s left eight runners on base.

“That’s baseball in a nutshell,” said Vogt. “It’s frustrating, absolutely. But just because we didn’t have offense today doesn’t mean our offense isn’t good. I think we’re still playing good baseball right now, we just didn’t get any hits when we needed them tonight.”

An Oakland loss, paired with a Kansas City Royals win in Cleveland, knots the two squads up with identical records in the chase for the top Wild Card spot and home-field advantage in the one-game playoff. Despite the result Tuesday, the A’s magic number to clinch a playoff berth drops to three games by way of a Seattle Mariners lost. Just five regular season games remain.

Gray (13-10, 3.21 ERA) recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts, including three by potential AL Most Valuable Player Mike Trout, yielding only two runs in the losing effort.

“He came in the dugout with this look in his eye,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “He was going to get after it. Unfortunately we didn’t give him the support. Three hits and he struck out nine of the first 12 guys. Everything was working today.”

Gray’s ability to rack up strikeouts in a hurry wasn’t lost on his teammates.

“I looked up in the fifth and he had ten punch-outs,” said Vogt. “That was a remarkable thing. He threw the ball well. We had some opportunities to score runs and we just weren’t able to come through.”

The youthful right-hander picked up eight of his first nine outs on K’s and nine of his first 12 by way of the whiff. It was the one non-strikeout that made him the hard luck loser against Los Angeles (97-61).

With runners on first and third and one out in the second inning, Gray caught Hank Conger swinging at strike three. The runner at first, Efren Navarro, took off with the pitch, drawing a throw from catcher Geovany Soto.

“There was a miscommunication on that,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “Aybar was coming down the line. We needed to stop the run there.”

With Erick Aybar crashing down the line from third base after the throw to second, Navarro froze between second and third base. Already dead to rights on the Soto throw, Navarro stalled long enough in a pickle for Aybar to cross the plate.

“He’s fast,” said Gray of the Angels shortstop. “He puts pressure on the defense, as you could see there. He’s a good player, he has good baseball instincts.”

The Angels added another run in the sixth inning after Gordon Beckham ripped a solo home to left field for the only earned run of the day. The long ball stood as the Angels first hit since the second inning as well as the third and final hit the visitors would collect on the evening.

Gray’s LA counterpart, starter Wade LeBlanc, managed to tame the A’s bats despite a repertoire of pitches that don’t break the 90 mph barrier. The Southpaw fired 5 2/3 innings, allowing only five hits to the Oakland hitters. The A’s didn’t manage a base runner to reach second base off LeBlanc until Josh Reddick’s doubled with one out in the fifth inning.

“He did a good job mixing his pitches,” said Vogt. “He didn’t really miss over the plate tonight. Typically, a guy like that, a junk baller, he knows how to pitch. That’s one thing about Wade LeBlanc, he knows how to pitch. He’s a really good pitcher. How you take advantage of those guys is when he makes mistakes over the plate, and he didn’t do that tonight.”

Of the five A’s hits off LeBlanc, four came counter to the lefty-vs-lefty pitcher’s advantage with Reddick (two hits), Sam Fuld and Eric Sogard all reaching base.

LeBlanc (1-1, 4.23) started the season in the minor leagues with the Angels, ultimately making his first Major League appearance at Oakland May 30th. LeBlanc pitched 6 1/3 innings of relief against the Athletics after starter Garret Richards exited with a season-ending knee injury, his longest outing to date this season.

Following his lone stint of game action, LeBlanc was claimed off waivers by the New York Yankees on June 3rd. 12 days later, after only one inning of two run work against the A’s later, the Yankees granted the 30 year old free agency. The Lake Charles, La. native returned to the Angels roster on June 17th. Since then, he has made eight appearances, including two starts before his season-best Tuesday evening outing.

Manager Mike Scioscia tabs a third-straight left-hander to pitch Wednesday afternoon’s series finale. Hector Santiago takes the mound in the rubber match. Melvin counters with a lefty of his own, sending trade deadline acquisition Jon Lester to the hill. The winner of Wednesday’s contest takes the season series with each side claiming nine wins apiece in head-to-head play.