It’s been a bit of a difficult time for the Oakland Athletics as of late, their offense has fizzled and before Sunday’s break through game versus the Angels the team hadn’t scored more than 3 runs in the prior 8 games. They’ve been lucky though because for the most part the starting pitching has enabled the A’s to continue winning games. They took 2 of 3 from both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox the week before the All-Star break, but they did so by the skin of their teeth in numerous 1 run games.
When you’re playing games like this, and your margin of error is nearly nonexistent, mistakes that are made can be highlighted. The loss on Friday night versus the Angels brought a major issue to light. A couple members of the Athletics starting rotation have shown themselves to be especially prone to giving up home runs, the two offenders being A.J. Griffin and Tommy Milone. Griffin, who allowed 3 home runs on Friday has given up 21 on the season, and is on pace to surrender over 30 by season’s end. Milone isn’t far behind, and had his own problems on national television against the Pirates, he has allowed 19 home runs on the season and could end up around 30 himself by the end of the year.
Griffin and Milone have undoubtedly had their moments of effectiveness, but have not been able to establish themselves as consistent, reliable starting pitchers for a team with aspirations as high as the Athletics have. Griffin has posted a slightly better than average 3.82 ERA, but his FIP of 4.37 and BABIP of .251 indicates he’s been the benefactor of some good fortune at times. Milone’s ERA is 4.24, and with a FIP of 4.42 and BABIP of .281 seem just about in line with all of his numbers to date. Clearly for both of them the longball has been a problem, and the periferal numbers validate that.
What the Athletics have on their hands is a tricky problem. While teams typically look to acquire help for either the front end of their starting rotations or the back end, the Athletics have a weak spot in the middle of theirs. With the reshuffling of the starting rotation following the All-Star break, Griffin and Milone have been separated, but the weakness still remains. This is all not to say that they aren’t both talented pitchers, or that they can’t help a team win, but it’s clear that if the Athletics want to progress further this season than they did last year, improvements may need to be made.
What those exact moves might be, is an entirely different question. In the last couple days the Athletics have been linked to Chicago Cubs starter Matt Garza, as have division rivals the Texas Rangers. There are a number of other quality starting pitchers who would undoubtedly help the Athletics in their push to the playoffs. A few names like Jake Peavy of the Chicago White Sox, Phil Hughes of the New York Yankees (should they continue to fall and decide to sell), James Shields, Ervin Santana, or Jeremy Guthrie of the Kansas City Royals, Yovani Gallardo of the Milwaukee Brewers, or even (GASP) Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants if they choose to sell him off. Many of these starters have their own flaws, and potentially high price tags that would ensure the A’s can’t be a trade match, but if a shrewd Billy Beane works his magic anything is possible. Which of the available starters I think the A’s should pursue is a topic for another day.
This is a time to swing for the fences for the Athletics, with a 3 game lead in the AL West, they have the liberty of not dealing with the pressure of chasing another team. That gives them the freedom to take a risk to improve this team, and set them forth on achieving their ultimate goal.