Sonny Gray demonstrated why he’s become one of the American League’s most dominant starting pitchers Sunday, in one tidy 2-hour, 25-minute display.
His two-hitter against Cleveland was the A’s right-hander at his best, and most impressive was how effortless Gray made it look. He faced two hitters over the minimum, and just one Cleveland batter made it as far as second base.
Having incorporated a slider this season as a major part of his arsenal, Gray switched gears against the Indians and leaned heavily on his curve ball, the pitch that grabbed everyone’s attention when he first cracked the big leagues in 2013.
After finishing off his third career shutout, Gray had a message for his catcher, Stephen Vogt.
“Let’s go have some fun.”
Oakland’s 2-0 victory was the perfect send-off for Gray and Vogt as they boarded a chartered bus along with Indians All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis and headed for Cincinnati to take part in the 86th annual All-Star Game.
Vogt is one of three catchers on the American League roster. Gray was voted on to the team but won’t pitch. The Angels’ Hector Santiago was named as his replacement on the active roster, as Gray declined to make himself eligible to pitch in the game (as was expected given he threw Sunday).
Gray is 10-3 with an AL-best 2.04 ERA. Things couldn’t have gone much better for him individually in the first half.
If only the same could be said for his team.
Despite taking two of three from Cleveland, the A’s 41-50 record remains the worst in the league. But a glance at the standings suggests there’s still a glimmer of hope.
Their win Sunday moved them to within eight games of the first-place Los Angeles Angels, who led the Houston Astros by percentage points pending the result of the Angels’ game Sunday afternoon against the Mariners. Even if the Angels win, it will be the A’s smallest division deficit since May 12, when they were eight games back.
It’s an encouraging enough scenario to give general manager Billy Beane something to ponder with the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline less than three weeks away.
The challenge for the A’s, and this is not the first time you’ve read this, is whether they can string together enough victories to make it worth keeping this team together past the deadline. To this point, there’s ample reason to be skeptical.
The bullpen has leaked oil all season and the defense’s 82 errors lead the majors by a wide margin. Those are two big reasons the A’s are 8-22 in one-run games. Starting Friday, when they resume play at home against Minnesota, the A’s will get their opportunity to start changing that narrative.
But the next couple of days are all about Gray and Vogt, and the company they’ll keep with the game’s elite. It’s the first All-Star selection for both players.
“It just kind of hit me as soon as the game ended. ’Wow, you’re going to the All-Star Game,’” Vogt said. “I still don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how to fathom it, or put it into words. But I’m very, very excited.”