Oakland Athletics: Offense Struggles Against Starting Pitching

(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Oakland Athletics have been red hot in seventh innings or later, posting league-best numbers for runs scored late in the game. But their offense in the first six innings of play has been abysmal, among the league’s worst. Can the A’s figure out how to score before the pressure of the last nine outs is upon them?

The Athletics have been a hot topic around the league for their comeback theatrics late in the game all season. They have developed a reputation as the #neversaydie Athletics, the Comeback Kids, and as a team that refuses to quit. Last week, their stunner comeback from a 10-2 deficit after the seventh inning impressed upon fans and viewers that they are worth watching until the very last out.

But what is it that makes them poised for comebacks? Though the resounding narrative has been one of perseverance and heart, why are they regularly in the position to have to come back at all?

Well, the A’s have some of the MLB’s worst numbers in innings one through six. They rank 27th in hits (566), 22nd in both runs (301) and RBI’s (288), and are a shocking 3rd worst in the league in team batting average across that span (.235). Compare that to their numbers in the 7th, 8th, and 9th, where they rank first in hits, runs, RBI’s, and home runs, and tied for 2nd in team batting average (.273).

For a team that has climbed from ten to just two games away from the second wild card spot in the AL West, it’s a bit surprising to see just how different the numbers are in the first six innings from the last three. And to be frank, it’s difficult to imagine this trend as a sustainable way of winning games.

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Looking forward to the possibility of a playoff berth, it seems increasingly threatening that the A’s can’t score against opposing clubs’ starters. On the bright playoff stage, particularly in a single game wild card playoff game in which the A’s could face Yankee’s ace Luis Severino , they need to figure out how to rally the power of their offense (and it is powerful) earlier in games. Because in the playoffs, they can’t rely on opponents’ fatigue, or their shaky bullpens.

As the A’s are rumored to pick up another pitching arm either in their rotation or in relief, they are at the center of a developing debate about the importance of starting pitching. Can they continue to rely on starters for only four, maybe five innings, and strengthen their bullpen instead?

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Funny how, on the one hand, the Athletics are making a case for a pitching staff that leans less on starters and more on a bullpen. Because on the other, they are struggling offensively in the first six innings of nearly every game when facing opposing team’s starters. Time will tell whether their offense can figure out a way to turn it on a bit earlier before it’s too late.