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Cleveland starts second half with tough test against A’s

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Their attempted run at the playoffs gets a restart in Oakland

MLB: JUL 10 Royals at Indians Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This isn’t the back-to-back 97-win A’s team of 2018 and 2019 (two teams that lost in the Wild Card rounds of the playoffs), but Cleveland can hardly afford to glance over them.

Oakland is a little more cobbled together than the fully operational death machine of those squads, but All-Star Matt Olson has rebounded from a disappointing 2020, and veteran Jed Lowrie looks like a man on a mission. Their pitching is what has held them back from repeating those years of success, but coming out of the break they are going to be refreshed and probably ready to throw off-speed pitches and confuse the bajeezus out of this Cleveland lineup.

On Cleveland’s side of things, they announced their rotation plans well ahead of this series, for all the good it will do them. The troubles of their first-half injuries still exist, and they will be leading off the post-All-Star Break era with Eli Morgan on the mound, followed by reliever-turned-starter Cal Quantrill and Zach Plesac, who looks like he’s still getting reacclimated to pitching after his finger injury.

Morgan has looked so close to being a good MLB pitcher at times, belied by his inflated 8.44 ERA. The changeup that made him a star in the minors has shown some flashes of brilliance, but there’s still clearly more work to be done. Getting through the third time through the order will be his biggest hurdle, as it seems to be for most of these young Cleveland pitchers this year.

Offensively, Cleveland is as healthy as they have been all year. They are still missing lefty masher Jordan Luplow, but Franmil Reyes is back and seems to be enjoying beating the life out of baseballs no longer aided by sticky substances. Roberto Pérez is back as well, though his biggest contribution will likely be helping the young pitching staff continue to improve — not anything to do with his bat. Bebo has a 77 wRC+ on the season but has a hit in four straight games, including two straight with a home run.

These two teams haven’t played each other since May 2019. The A’s took four of the five games they played against each other that year, but every game was close — each within two runs.

Team at a glance

  • Record: 52-40 (5th in AL)
  • Runs Scored: 408 (8th in AL)
  • Run Differential: +32 (6th in AL)
  • Last 10: 4-6
  • Slash: .232/.312/.405
  • wOBA: .312 (8th in AL)
  • wRC+: 102 (7th in AL)
  • ERA: 3.80 (4th in AL)
  • SIERA: 4.17 (9th in AL)
  • K-BB%: 14.8% (8th in AL)

Projected starters

Friday, July 16, 9:40 p.m. ET: RHP Chris Bassitt vs. Eli Morgan
After an excellent abbreviated campaign in 2020, Chris Bassitt is staying consistently effective for the A’s this season. He’s enjoying the highest strikeout rate of his career (24.5%) and an ERA that would be his lowest over a full 162-game season (3.28) if he sticks it out.

Bassitt throws virtually every pitch under the sun, but primarily relies on a 92.9 mph sinker and a slightly faster four-seamer. He began incorporating a sweeping slider last season, and this year it’s his fourth most-used pitch behind three different fastballs. He spins his four-seamer, sinker, and cutter on a similar axis, which mirrors his slider and curveball. In other words, it’s virtually impossible to tell what is coming based on the ball’s spin.

In his last outing heading into the All-Star break, Bassitt held the Rangers to one earned run over seven innings. He’s had just one double-digit strikeout game this season, against the Red Sox back on May 11.

Saturday, July 17, 4:07 p.m. ET: LHP Sean Manaea vs. Cal Quantrill
It’s been a long road back for Sean Manaea, who missed almost all of 2019 with shoulder surgery. He was brilliant in his five starts that year, then tanked in the pandemic-shortened season last year. In 2021, he’s back to looking like an ace, with a 3.19 ERA, 25% strikeout rate, and 5.8% walk rate.

Advanced metrics put him middle-of-the-road in terms of expected results, and he’s been hit hard a couple of times, but he’s one of the best in the league at avoiding walks. Manaea has never relied on a high spin rate on any of his pitches, so he’s one of the pitchers best suited to survive in a post-sticky world.

Like Bassitt, he’s a sinker pitcher. Unlike Bassitt, it’s one of only three pitches he uses along with a changeup and curveball.

Sunday, July 18, 4:07 p.m. ET: RHP Frankie Montas vs. Zach Plesac
Many A’s players are enjoying a nice rebound from their dismal 2020 campaigns. Frankie Montas is not one of them.

After carrying a 5.60 ERA over his 11 starts last season, Montas is at 4.41 this year, with one of the lower strikeout rates of his career (24.2%). Most of his struggles can be found in a handful of awful outings — eight earned runs in 5.2 innings against the Rangers, seven in 2.2 innings against the Dodgers, and six in four innings against the Twins.

His last start, July 8 against the Astros, was his best of the season. He struck out 10 over 6.2 innings, allowing one earned run and walking one.

Hot hitters

2B, Jed Lowrie - Thirty-seven-year-old Jed Lowrie leads the Athletics in hits so far in the month of July. He has tallied 14 so far, with three homers (also a team-high), and just six strikeouts. He’s slashing .368/.400/.684 in the month and .263/.336/.423 on the season.

SS, Elvis Andrus - The only other A’s hitter with double-digit hits in July is, naturally, Elvis Andrus. The former Rangers top prospect is in his first year with the A’s after spending 12 seasons in Texas. Despite a lackluster 68 wRC+ on the season, he’s gone 11-for-42 in his last 10 games, including a 3-for-5 day against the Astros on July 6. Could this recent stretch help get him back to being an above-average bat for the first time since 2017?

Roster

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  • 4%
    3
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  • 31%
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  • 49%
    1
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