OAKLAND — The Cubs rolled into town with the major leagues’ best record, and Friday’s series opener played out like the mismatch it appeared to be on paper.
Chicago jumped all over A’s rookie Dillon Overton, who is allowing home runs at a career-opening pace that literally hasn’t been seen in more than 100 years. The final was a 7-2 Cubs victory that showed the wide, wide, chasm that currently exists between these two franchises.
Overton (1-3) stuck around for only three innings and got ambushed for seven runs. He gave up two long balls in a four-run first and has now allowed 11 homers over his first five career games. No other major league pitcher since at least 1913 has given up that many over the same number of games to start a career.
Meanwhile, the A’s did little against left-hander Jon Lester (12-4), making his first return to The Coliseum since spending the second half of 2014 with Oakland after he was acquired for Yoenis Cespedes. Lester allowed two runs over seven innings, struck out eight and didn’t issue a walk.
The Cubs have lots of familiar faces, including former Athletics Ben Zobrist, Chris Coghlan and Addison Russell, the A’s former top prospect who was facing his old organization for the first time. Russell went 2-for-3 with a run and turned in a slick backhanded play at shortstop.
In defense of Overton, he’s being thrown out there against big league hitters even though it’s clear he needs more time at Triple-A. Attrition has hit Oakland’s rotation hard this season, and the trade of Rich Hill, along with Jesse Hahn’s placement on the disabled list Friday, only magnifies the lack of depth. But the A’s can’t keep sending Overton out to a major league mound without worrying about doing lasting damage to his confidence.
Starting pitching report
The tone was set early, as Dexter Fowler led off the game by taking Overton deep to left-center. After the lefty allowed three homers in his last outing at Cleveland, the Cubs never gave him a chance to establish any better rhythm Friday. Anthony Rizzo and Russell both singled. Then Jorge Soler teed off on an 89 mile-per-hour fastball that went for a three-run homer and put the A’s in a 4-0 hole before they even came to bat. Manager Bob Melvin, not wanting to go to his ‘pen too early after Thursday’s extra-inning game, stuck with Overton for three innings. By the time he left, he’d allowed seven runs on nine hits to go with a hit batsman and a wild pitch. Through five big league starts, the rookie’s ERA is 10.97.
No team does mop-up relief duty like the A’s, and that’s only meant as half-sarcasm. The work of Andrew Triggs and Daniel Coulombe was impressive Friday. They combined for five innings of scoreless ball to at least keep the score respectable, with Coulombe striking out four over three innings.
At the plate
A bright spot for the A’s came in the sixth, when recently acquired Brett Eibner homered in his second at-bat with Oakland. Drawing the start in right field, the right-handed hitting Eibner jumped on the first pitch of the inning from Lester and smacked it over the wall in left. He went 1-for-3 in his A’s debut, and Melvin said the initial plan will be for Eibner to start against left-handers, playing any of the three outfield spots. He’s said to have a very strong arm, having spent time on the mound during his collegiate career at Arkansas when he wasn’t roaming the outfield.
In the field
The A’s looked especially sluggish defensively early in the game. Third baseman Ryon Healy let Ben Zobrist’s hard bouncer get past him for a double. And a foul pop-up fell to the earth very near home plate as catcher Bruce Maxwell never even made an attempt at it. On the bright side, Ladendorf made three very nice plays at second base. He also appeared to hurt his hand while trying to turn a double play, firing a sidearm throw that buried itself right into a sliding Russell, who was trying to break up the throw to first.
The turnout was 25,182.
A’s hitters face another tough assignment Saturday in Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta (12-5, 2.75). He’ll match up against Sonny Gray (5-10, 5.84), who has never faced the Cubs in his career. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m.