Gray's surprising struggles and other takeaways from A's 9-4 loss

Gray's surprising struggles and other takeaways from A's 9-4 loss

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.


A's could have more difficulty finding diamonds in the rough this offseason


A's could have more difficulty finding diamonds in the rough this offseason

The 2018 Winter Meetings were mostly uneventful, with just a handful of significant trades and free agent signings. But the players who did agree to contracts earned big money, signifying a hotter market than last year.

Outfielder Andrew McCutchen inked a three-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies despite a modest 20 home runs and 65 RBI last season. Relievers Jeurys Familia and Joe Kelly each got three-year contracts worth $30 million and $25 million, respectively.

The starting pitcher market, where the A's are most interested, appears to be especially strong. Patrick Corbin got a six-year contract worth a staggering $140 million from the Nationals. Nathan Eovaldi received four years and $67.5 million from the Red Sox, despite posting similar numbers to Trevor Cahill.

Even Tyson Ross earned $5.75 million from the Tigers following a season in which he recorded a 4.15 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, both significantly worse than Cahill and Edwin Jackson.

So what does all of that mean? Essentially, it suggests the A's will have to spend more money than they would like in order to be competitive in free agency.

Of course, in previous years, Billy Beane and David Forst have been successful finding diamonds in the rough for more affordable price tags. They say they will stick to their plan.

"We don't really get to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak," Forst said. "We kind of set our price. We know what we can do within the confines of our payroll and try to stay on that."

That might be a little more difficult this year, based on the early contract numbers in free agency. While the A's try not to let other teams' deals affect their negotiations, it's hard not to take notice.

"Any time a player comes off the market, whether it's a free agent or a trade, that's one fewer guy that you can put in place," Forst said. "So you kind of have to take that into account. We're not playing in a certain stratosphere with the starting pitcher market, so those don't really affect us, but you do have to keep it in mind. There are only so many guys out there." 

The A's typically prefer to wait until late in the offseason to find free agents who fit their price range. That tactic worked well last year with Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Jonathan Lucroy. 

"We have sort of targeted conversations, free agents, and trades, and kind of go at our own pace," Forst said. "I don't know that any external forces are going to change that."

Oakland will have to hope a few quality free agents slip through the cracks again.

A's Matt Chapman undergoes shoulder surgery, will swing again in six weeks


A's Matt Chapman undergoes shoulder surgery, will swing again in six weeks

Matt Chapman had his second surgery of the offseason on Friday and underwent a successful procedure on his left shoulder, the A's announced. 

The Gold Glove-winning third baseman will begin physical therapy next week, and is expected to be able to swing a bat in six weeks, according to Dr. William Workman, who performed the surgery. Six weeks from the surgery is Jan. 25, 2019, or about two weeks before the start of spring training. 

Chapman recently felt discomfort in his shoulder during off-season workouts, according to the A's. In October, Chapman underwent surgery on his left thumb, and was expected to make a full recovery. 

Chapman emerged as one of the most important A's last season, and arguably the best defender in baseball. He led all of MLB with 29 defensive runs saved, and was voted the winner of the AL Platinum Glove. 

The A's need his glove -- and his bat -- healthy for spring training, no matter how the rest of the offseason shakes out.