The literal red flags over Cincinnati are emblematic of the home team’s historic achievements. The figurative ones signify the visiting team’s offensive anguish.
The A’s came within one out Tuesday of being shut out for a second straight game and a fifth in their last 21.
They’re averaging 1.67 runs while losing five of their last six games.
Their supposed all-star snub has gone 59 at bats since the break without a single RBI. That’s the most of any player in baseball.
And none of that should concern you.
[RECAP: Reds 3, A's 1]
The fact of the matter is, the Athletics are an imperfect offensive club. Only three of Tuesday’s starters are hitting over .251, and it’s been that way pretty much all season. They aren’t particularly adept at moving runners over and getting them in; rather, they’ve long been far too reliant on the vaunted “crooked number.” When they hit homers, they win. When they don’t, they don’t.
This brand of offensive philosophy lends itself to streakiness, and we’re suffering through one of those streaks now. The flip side of that, of course, is the inevitable course correction that will see the A’s throwing up three and four-run innings like pledges purging tequila shots during hell week. (My not-so-subtle reminder that it’s almost college football season)
What you should be more concerned about is the starting pitching and - to a lesser extent - the defense, because, in case you haven’t heard, those things win championships.
The A’s played consistently great baseball from the middle of May through the end of July. And make no mistake, there were stretches of undeniable offensive futility during that stretch. But the team ERA was about three and a quarter, and the defense ranged from solid to nearly flawless.
[RELATED: MLB standings]
Behold the dog days of August, and the starting rotation which for so long seemed a model of stability is showing signs of combustibility. That rock solid starting five has devolved from fact to friction.
Oh sure, Bartolo Colon continues to scoff at Father Time and Jarrod Parker has – save for a hiccup against the Angels last week – remained steady. But the rest of the staff has issues of increasing concern. A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone, and Dan Straily are giving up home runs at an alarming rate. Griffin and Milone have combined to allow a staggering 51 longballs, far and away the most of any major league teammates. Straily has given up eight homers in his last eight starts, after surrendering just three in his first 10 outings. Milone has been so dicey he’s spending some quality time in Sacramento. Straily has already been there amid his season-long Jeckle and Hyde routine. The team ERA in August is an even 4.00. That’s 10th in the American League.
There was a time, not so long ago, when whatever the pitching matchup on a given day, you really liked the A’s chances. Now that scenario seems considerably more spotty, not unlike their lead in the American League West.
As for the defense, I refer you to that old truism about good teams being strong up the middle. I then point out that the A’s are below average at catcher, shortstop, and second base. Granted, Coco Crisp is a terrific defensive center fielder. But the sum of the parts doesn’t scream defensive wizardry, and we’ve seen too many errors on routine plays as the summer has worn on.
None of this is meant to elicit panic. I’m not for a moment suggesting the red flags should or will beget white ones. The offense will bounce back – probably sooner rather than later. The pitching should even out, especially with the looming return of Brett Anderson, who could give this rotation a boost akin to that which he provided about this time last season. The bullpen remains a source of great comfort and reliability – and not just at the back end. Less heralded relievers like Pat Neshek and Dan Otero have thrived in under-the-radar roles.
I believe the A’s and Rangers will go right down to the wire competing for the AL West, and I’ve maintained since day one that both are playoff teams regardless of who takes the division. That said, the A’s will ultimately go as far as their rotation takes them, and if we need to endure some offensive undulations along the way, I suggest you simply sit back and enjoy the ride. And avoid tequila shots.