'It was a tough series': A's begin long road trip on sour note

April 21st, 2024

CLEVELAND -- Before the A’s kicked off a three-city, 10-game road trip on Friday, manager Mark Kotsay referred to this weekend’s series against the Guardians as an opportunity to reassess where his club stands.

A few weeks back, the A’s began the season by dropping three of four at home to a Cleveland team that dominated them in every aspect. Oakland picked it up soon after by playing nearly .500 baseball with a 7-8 record in its next 15 games -- a stretch that saw them win two consecutive series for the first time since 2021.

The location was different, but the results were similar to that season-opening series at the Coliseum. A 6-2 loss in Sunday’s series finale clinched a sweep for the Guardians, who finished their season series against Oakland having outscored the A’s, 51-18, over seven games.

“It was a tough series,” Kotsay said. “This team is a good baseball team. They grind at-bats out. We had challenges putting guys away.”

After a blowout on Friday night, the A’s were much more competitive in the next two games. Following Ross Stripling’s solid outing of three runs on five hits in five innings on Sunday, Josh Naylor’s bases-clearing triple on a lefty-lefty matchup against T.J. McFarland in the seventh turned a one-run deficit into a four-run deficit.

Naylor was one of three Guardians to register two-out, two-strike RBI hits off A’s pitching. Stripling also allowed RBI singles to Andrés Giménez and Gabrial Arias in such situations.

“I feel like I threw the ball well,” said Stripling, who is the second pitcher in Oakland history to lose his first five starts in a season since Mike Morgan, who in 1979 dropped six consecutive games. “I commanded a lot of pitches and had a good plan. These guys are good. They don’t punch out. They take advantage of a lot of mistakes.

“If I could get a pitch back, it would be the Arias pitch. I had him down [in the count] and gave him a slider. He gets a hit right there and that was basically the game.”

A steady A’s bullpen that has been a strength for most of the season faltered the past two days. Saturday's 6-3 loss saw right-hander Austin Adams allow a one-run deficit to grow to three runs in the seventh after he allowed his first two earned runs of the season.

Those hiccups are magnified due to the pitching staff’s thin margin for error these days based on continued shortcomings by the offense. Held to two runs or fewer in 11 of its first 22 games, Oakland’s 63 runs overall are the second fewest in the Majors.

The A’s had their opportunities on Sunday. After Brent Rooker’s solo shot in the fourth got them on the board, Lawrence Butler brought them within a run on a two-out RBI single in sixth. Shea Langeliers followed Butler off the bench and sent a well-struck fly ball to left-center that Ramón Laureano caught to end the A’s last threat on a day that saw them leave nine runners on base.

“That would have been our big hit to put us ahead in that inning,” Kotsay said of Langeliers’ deep flyout. “It’s been a challenge to get that big hit with runners in scoring position. We need to score more runs. … When you’re down a run and your offense isn’t scoring, it’s a challenge.”

Wrapping up the first of three consecutive series against the top three teams in the American League, things will not get any easier for the A’s. Next is a four-game set with the Yankees in what will be the first experience of Yankee Stadium for many of these young players. After that comes a three-game series in Baltimore against a high-powered Orioles squad.

Comparing this series against the Guardians to the one three weeks ago, the A’s did show improvements. They pitched better and played much better defense. But they’ll need all three phases to come together for success over this tough upcoming week.

“We’re going to learn a lot about ourselves on this road trip,” Stripling said. “We’ve been in a lot of games compared to the first time we faced these guys, where it looked like we didn’t belong on the same field as them. We’re more confident and figuring out who we are.

“This is a tough test going into New York and Baltimore. I’m anxious to see how we respond. … We’re not going to back down. I promise you that.”