Put together the fact that we could have clinched the AL West with a win, and that it was against the Giants, and Mike Minor’s six-run start on Sunday caused understandable concern among many in the A’s fanbase.
Ever the optimist, let’s find some reasons to believe it was a Minor bump in the road.
Minor breezed through the first two innings, sitting the Giants down in order, and then struck out Brandon Crawford to start the third inning.
Having retired seven in a row you would have backed Minor to carry on his good work and he almost did but for a marginal call on a 3-2 pitch to the number 8 hitter Luis Basabe.
Minor had made Basabe swing through back-to-back change-ups to level the count 2-2 and then tried to get him to chase a high fastball that was too high to tempt him. He could have gone back to the change-up (possibly should have in retrospect, although maybe he thought Basabe would be expecting it) , but instead went for a fastball that skimmed the outside corner.
It was almost the perfect pitch other than for the fact that the umpire called it a ball. It would be a stretch to say Minor was screwed here as it was a call that could have gone either way; however, it was unlucky for Minor not to get the strike-out and proved costly when Chadwick Tromp then hit a two-run homer.
Even with that at-bat, Minor didn’t make a big mistake. Tromp hit a 2-1 slider that was low and ordinarily not a pitch that you would want a hitter to make a big swing at. Tromp caught it and gave the Giants a 2-0 lead before Minor settled back down and got the next two hitters out to limit the damage.
However, more frustration would follow in the top of the fourth inning. Minor threw a decent 2-2 pitch to lead-off hitter Brandon Belt, a slider on the inside part of the plate, that he did a good job of getting something on and dunking into centre field.
Then came the Darin Ruf at-bat and the pitch Minor wishes he could have back. After hammering in two high fastballs to jump ahead 0-2, Minor hung a slider and Ruf gave it the treatment it deserved.
Minor had given up four runs essentially on the back of one rank-bad pitch.
He then navigated a single in the fifth inning to put up a much-needed zero on the scoreboard and gave Melvin a decision to make as to whether to cut his losses at that point.
I can understand why BoMel didn’t make a pitching change, with the usual favourable lefty-on-lefty match-up starting the inning and the obvious desire for Minor to lessen the load on the bullpen, but it was easy to second-guess when the A’s starter walked the first two batters and gave Melvin no choice.
J.B. Wendelken had the unenviable task of trying to mop-up the damage. Three batters later, with the bases loaded, he threw an absolute pie to Brandon Crawford and that was the ball-game (other than the Giants piling on a few more runs for good measure, but I switched off and went to bed at that point).
Minor’s final pitching line did not look great: IP 5.0+, H 4, R 6, ER 6, HR 2, BB 3, SO 8.
However, you could also be half-glass-full about it and say that’s two starts in a row in which he has struck out 8 batters, the sort of swing-and-miss stuff that we’ve been looking for from our starting rotation. Minor was tremendous in his previous start, bossing the Mariners over seven shut-out innings. I know it was only the Mariners, but it still counts!
Based on the rotation schedule, he should have one more start before the post-season begins and, as luck with have it, that would come against the Mariners as well.
Tougher tests are to come in the play-offs so a good start against Seattle won’t banish the concerns about him as a post-season pitcher; however, it would still be a welcome confidence boost for him and the team.