Here's three thoughts and observations coming out of the A's 9-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday, in which their 19 strikeouts tied a franchise record for most strikeouts by the team in a nine-inning game …
1) Dominance from Sonny Gray can't be taken for granted: When the A's handed the right-hander a 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the fourth, it seemed the path was clear to his third consecutive victory. Instead, the roof caved quickly. The Indians got to Gray for seven runs over the fourth and fifth, turing that 3-0 lead into a 7-3 deficit. Cleveland knocked Gray around for seven hits in those two innings. He also issued two walks and a wild pitch over that span. It was simply a matter of command, or lack of it, as Gray began serving up pitches right in the hitting zone and the Indians made him pay. He wound up charged with seven runs on nine hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings.
It was a surprising outing given how sharp Gray had been coming in. Over his previous three outings, he held opponents to a total of six runs over 19 innings, with 22 strikeouts and five walks. Gray is already a hot name in the trade rumor mill, but his results over the next two months obviously will dictate his value as the deadline approaches.
2) The team-wide effort to take a better approach at the plate this year is not panning out: The A's entered spring training determined to take smarter at-bats, increase on-base percentage and make things tougher on opposing pitchers. Tuesday's 19-strikeout performance showed there is still a very long way to go. Through five games of this seven-game road trip, the A's are 1-4 and have struck out a total of 65 times, which averages out to a whopping 13 per game. The A's actually did well in situational at-bats early in Tuesday's game to build their 3-0 lead, with Matt Joyce bringing one run home on a ground ball and another on a sacrifice fly. Then the whiffs started piling up in rapid fashion.
Oakland ranks third in the American League with 74 home runs, but that is offset by the fact the A's have scored the second-fewest runs (207) and have the second-lowest on-base percentage (.306).
3) Problems persist at the top of the batting order: This is tied heavily to the above mentioned offensive woes. The A's are getting way too little production from the top two spots in the batting order, and therefore they have no continuity in those slots. Six different hitters have started in the leadoff spot, and 11 have made starts in the No. 2 hole. Rajai Davis was signed to bring speed and veteran savvy to the leadoff spot, but he's hitting .200 after Tuesday's 0-for-5, four-strikeout performance. A's leadoff men as a whole are last in the league with a .157 batting average and second-to-last in on-base percentage (.233). Joyce, an offseason addition meant to boost the offense and hit near the top of the lineup like Davis, is hitting .190.