Before the top teams in the American League West really put their foot on the gas, the A’s need to find a way to apply the brakes.
They need to stop their current skid before it throws their season off course for good. Before the Seattle Mariners or Texas Rangers, the top two teams in the division right now, create too much separation between themselves and the pack. And before the last-place Houston Astros receive any kind of wake-up call.
With Sunday’s 11-3 rout at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, the A’s have lost 11 of 15. They’re a season-high four games under .500 at 14-18. After dropping two of three at Camden Yards, it’s not like the task becomes much easier with three games awaiting at Fenway Park against the Red Sox, who lead the AL in runs, batting average, on-base percentage, OPS and rank second in stolen bases.
But the A’s need to right the ship, and it needs to begin with a starting rotation that is 3-10 with a 7.16 ERA over the past 13 games. To be truthful, it’s not surprising that the rotation is cause for the most concern right now. That’s the area that provided the most question marks during spring training.
The difference, back then, was that the A’s at least seemed to have a wealth of starting options to choose from. But since they headed north from Arizona, the A’s have lost Felix Doubront and Chris Bassitt to season-ending elbow surgery (Jarrod Parker went down with elbow issues before the team even broke camp).
[INSTANT REPLAY: A's allow six homers, drop series vs Orioles]
Oakland still has the solid makings of a rotation if everyone is performing up to expectations, but Kendall Graveman’s disastrous outing Sunday highlighted the current issues. He gave up a career-high four home runs and lasted just 2 2/3 innings, becoming the first A’s pitcher since Gio Gonzalez in July 2009 to give up four homers in less than three innings. Graveman (1-4, 5.74) has allowed 16 earned runs, including seven homers, in 13 2/3 innings over his last three starts. In his defense, his previous start before Sunday wasn’t too bad – he allowed four runs in 6 1/3 innings with no homers against the Mariners. But he’s giving up lots of hits even when the ball stays in the park, and the A’s can’t keep taxing a bullpen that currently leads the league in innings pitched.
For those wondering in hindsight why the A’s chose to send Jesse Hahn to the minors Sunday morning, the team needs to call up a starter for Wednesday due to Saturday’s doubleheader that threw the rotation schedule out of whack. It made sense for the A’s to call up an extra reliever until then. It’s possible Hahn still factors into this year’s rotation again at some point, although if Henderson Alvarez comes off the disabled list as expected on the next homestand and pitches well, Hahn or Graveman could have trouble sticking in the majors.
That scenario will play itself out. Right now, the A’s need to steady themselves, and they only need to look back on 2015 as an example. It was at this time that they were in the midst of a 2-14 stretch from May 6-22 that dropped them from 6 ½ games back in the AL West to 13 ½.
They’re currently just 4 ½ back of first-place Seattle. It’s still early and there’s time for a rebound. Can the starting pitchers answer the challenge?
That will help determine whether the A’s spend the summer in contention or contemplating another sell-off at the trade deadline.