OAKLAND — For the third time in four games on Sunday, the Oakland Athletics faced a pitcher having what looked to be his best game of the year.
Seattle’s James Paxton struck out 16 on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman struck out six A’s, allowed just two hits (none after the third) and threw a career-best nine shutout innings. On Sunday, it was Alex Cobb’s turn.
Cobb came into the series finale with a 9.68 ERA this season, but allowed just two runs — one earned — on five hits on Sunday. On the other side, though, was Oakland’s Andrew Triggs. The 29-year old turned in the A’s third straight strong start, tying his career high with nine strikeouts as Oakland scored a 2-1 comeback win to secure a series sweep.
“They’re down, and we were hoping they stayed down for us,” manager Bob Melvin said of the Orioles (8-26). “They’re explosive, offensively, they have a really good bullpen and they’ve got a great manager. You just kind of hoped they didn’t get it going while they were with us.”
Cobb had gotten out of the fourth inning twice in his four previous starts, and struck out a total of six before he went six strong against the A’s, striking out five.
Triggs allowed two hits — including a second-inning solo home run — in seven innings, and retired 21 of the 23 hitters he faced, featuring his cutter and slider while fanning Baltimore’s big bats Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis a total of three times. Over the course of the series, that pair struck out nine times, as A’s pitchers held them 5-for-25 with just two extra-base hits.
Triggs’s nine Ks contributed to the A’s pitching staff’s series total to 40, the most in a three-game series in Oakland history, and the most the Orioles have struck out in a three-game series this season.
“I was just following Lucroy’s lead,” Triggs said, referring to catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who was roundly praised earlier this series for his work with the staff. “… [Lucroy is] hugely important. You have some time up here, so you have an idea of who you are and what you need to do to get guys out, but this is not his first rodeo. He’s seen so many things, and without going into too much detail, it’s the stuff in between innings. We’ll be chatting, and he’ll say, ‘I saw this,’ or ‘I saw that,’ with what they’re doing or what I’m doing. It’s kind of like having a pitching coach behind there.”
Over the last five games, the A’s pitching staff has allowed just 11 earned runs in 47 innings of work (2.11 ERA) with 54 strikeouts. The starters in that span have a 2.37 ERA, with 35 strikeouts.
After a Matt Joyce leadoff double in the fourth, Cobb got a comebacker from Mark Canha. He picked it up, looked to first, and then wheeled and threw softly to third to get Joyce. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez dropped the ball, and with Joyce safe at third, sailed a throw over second into right, putting men at second and third. A groundout to second by Khris Davis tied things up at 1-1.
A Matt Olson double off the glove of a diving Adam Jones in left center gave the A’s the lead.
Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen came on in relief and pitched one inning each for the hold and the save, respectively, with Treinen working around a leadoff swinging bunt by Trey Mancini in the ninth. Davis flied out to right with men at the corners in the top of the ninth to end the game.
After feasting on the Orioles — tied for the worst record in the Majors — Oakland has won 13 of its last 19 and five straight home games. The A’s are 8-1 in their last nine games at the Coliseum, but the stretch ahead will be brutal.
The reigning world champion Houston Astros (21-14 coming into play Sunday) arrive on Monday for a three-game set, toting the Majors Leagues’ best team ERA (2.69).
After that, Oakland (18-16) heads to the Bronx for three against the New York Yankees. Since April 21, Yankees starters have gone 8-1 with a 1.89 ERA. After that, the A’s will visit Boston (24-9) for three, and then spend four games in Toronto (19-16).
“We have a nice little schedule coming up of four really good teams playing really well right now, too,” Melvin said. “I was going to try to enjoy the win today before I got to that.”
Olson has just four hits in his last eight games (.181) and left fielder Matt Joyce — who hit 25 home runs a year ago for Oakland — has just four hits in his last 13 games, going 4-for-36 with two doubles and no RBIs.
Oakland’s offense has been anything but perky even against struggling Baltimore, scoring just 10 runs in three games against the team with the fourth-worst team ERA in the majors.
“We didn’t swing the bats all that well, but our pitching was there, so you want to be timely,” Melvin said.
Joyce went 2-for-4 with a double on Sunday, and Olson went 2-for-4 on Friday with a home run and a double, so there may be some spark awakening in the lineup aside from Jed Lowrie, who took a day off for Chad Pinder on Sunday. Pinder went 1-for-3.
“They’ll be big for us,” Melvin said of Joyce and Olson. “As will our entire lineup … We do need to heat up a little bit offensively, and our three key left-handed hitters are Joyce, Olson and Jed. It’s a good week to get Jed a day off today, but those teams are always a challenge.”