As the regular season schedule draws closer to its terminus, a potential second straight trip to the playoffs becomes more of a reality for the A’s. With the postseason scheduled to begin in less than three weeks the team must start thinking about their postseason rotation soon, if they haven’t given it some thought already. Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Parker already have their spots locked down, leaving three pitchers (A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Sonny Gray) fighting for the remaining two spots.
A.J. Griffin stated his case yesterday by tossing seven innings of one-run ball, allowing just two hits and a walk while fanning eight. Griffin has the most experience of the trio, having been with the team during last season’s playoff run and getting the start in Game 4 of the ALDS where he pitched well enough (two runs and seven hits over five innings with no walks and a strikeout) to give the A’s a shot to win. He also leads the team with 30 starts.
However, Griffin has been extremely prone to giving up homers, leading the majors with 34 surrendered. Part of the problem is Griffin is a quick worker on the mound, and his tendency to rush through his pitching motion throws off his mechanics and results in pitches that stay up in the strike zone.
Fortunately, Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo recently pointed out Griffin has done a better job of taking his time to deliver his pitches in his last few starts, and it seems to have helped his control. Griffin has walked just one batter in each of his last four starts, after walking a combined 15 in the previous three, and his pitches are staying low as they should.
If Griffin can continue to refine his mechanics the ball will stay in the park more, and it should earn him a spot in the rotation.
Straily has done a better job of limiting long balls than Griffin, but he’s also been somewhat inconsistent in his first full season in the majors. Just when it seems he’s turned a corner by pitching two or three superb games, he’ll follow that up with an absolute clunker or two which leaves you scratching your head. That’s just part of the growing pains with young pitchers.
He has pitched very well as of late, allowing a total of just three earned runs during his last three starts in a span of 18 innings, lowering his ERA by more than 40 points.
The real wild card here is Gray, who has looked extremely impressive during his short time in the show. Gray has really only had one bad start, getting knocked around a bit by Baltimore on August 25, and he’s given up just two homers in 48 innings. However, he has eclipsed his previous career-high in innings pitched (166.1 compared to 152 last year) and clubs are usually reluctant to let their rookie hurlers approach 200 innings.
You certainly don’t want to overload a young arm, but you also don’t want to make a playoff run with a dynamic talent just sitting on the shelf. It’s a tough balance to strike, but at least the A’s have plenty of options no matter what they decide.
Interestingly, the idea of putting Brett Anderson back into the rotation doesn’t seem to be a possibility anymore as he has settled into the bullpen pretty nicely. Anderson could be the most talented pitcher the A’s have, but his injury-prone body just doesn’t want to cooperate. It’s often thought that starting pitchers who get hurt often would be better off by limiting their innings in a bullpen role, and it’s looking more likely that’s where Anderson will stay for the rest of the year.
If I had to decide today I would give the last two spots to Griffin and Gray. Griffin is looking more and more like the pitcher he was last year and Gray is just too good to pass up. It should also be noted that Straily has a 2.25 ERA and 1.0 WHIP during day games, but those numbers skyrocket to 5.21 and 1.39 at night, when the majority of playoff games are played.
However, taking Straily out of the rotation would necessitate a move to bullpen or being left off the roster completely.
Straily has never pitched out of the bullpen in the majors, and the A’s have a surplus of quality arms to shuffle around, with only so many spots to fill. Depending on how many position players they carry, we may end up seeing Straily and somebody like Jesse Chavez sitting out the ALDS.
Funny enough, the resurgence of the ever-popular Daric Barton is making it difficult to decide who makes the 25-man playoff roster. I never thought I would be saying that at this point in the season, but stranger things have happened.