The Oakland Athletics need to find an Ace before the playoffs arrive

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 30: Sean Manaea
OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 30: Sean Manaea /

The Oakland Athletics needed an ace-like performance on the mound Sunday from Sean Manaea, but he failed to deliver.

A rough stretch of starts by Manaea in August continued yesterday as the Oakland Athletics fell to the Houston Astros by a score of 9-4.

It’s about as must-win a game as a team can have in late August. The A’s had won the first two games of the series to pull into a division lead tie with Houston and a series sweep would have delivered a clear statement.

Instead, some of the luster of the series win was lost as Manaea encountered trouble with his command and the ‘Stros left Oakland with momentum and sole possession of first place in the American League West.

Sean Manaea’s final line: 4 innings pitched, 9 hits, 6 earned runs, and 2 home runs allowed.

This is not the type of performance that wins playoff games. It pushed Manaea’s August numbers this season up to an alarming 5.31 ERA (12 earned runs over 24 innings pitched), 1.525 WHIP, and a BAA of .300.

These numbers could have been worse if you consider Manaea was mercifully pulled from his start after 2.2 innings against the Dodgers on August 7th due to ineffectiveness.

This is a far cry from the pitcher who delivered a no-hitter against the red-hot Red Sox offense back in April. John Dickinson, a radio reporter and host at @957thegame posted the following post-game clip after yesterday’s game.

Short of the playoffs, the Oakland Athletics won’t find themselves in a bigger pressure cooker situation than what they faced on Sunday.  It was a heavyweight battle for first place and our de facto ace was nowhere to be found.

Unfair as it may be, with winning, comes demands and expectations. The incredible performance of this ball club over the last couple of months has thrust them into a position where those watching now expect more.

The increased expectations aren’t lost on the players and this clip demonstrates Manaea’s disappointment with being unable to keep the A’s within striking distance during the game.

Manaea experienced a similar dip in performance last summer as his August split left him with 18 earned runs allowed over 17.2 innings pitched, and a bloated 9.17 ERA.

It’s entirely possible his August numbers this year and last are a product of fatigue. Manaea has pitched 155.2 innings so far this season after pitching 158.2 innings all of last year.

Perhaps he would benefit from a skipped start here or there over the final weeks of the season to give his arm some rest?

I think the looming question is, are his string of performances over July and August a cause for concern as we move into the final month of the regular season?

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It is cause for worry considering Manaea has been the one true constant of our starting rotation since Opening Day. When a team runs as hot as the A’s have, weaknesses tend to stick out like a sore thumb.

Manaea’s inconsistent performances over the course of July and August have been a glaring weakness.

Now, I recognize the sky is not falling for this team. This isn’t a doom and gloom report. I’m simply calling attention to a vulnerability that’s becoming more and more difficult to deny.

Fans will be quick to point out that the bullpen has been exceptional and that the A’s path to winning requires only that the starting rotation keeps deficits manageable until the 6th inning when the strength of our team can take over.

I understand the approach and wholeheartedly agree that our bullpen is one of the best in baseball. That doesn’t remove the need for someone to step up and be the ace of our starting rotation though.

It certainly becomes less important should we win the division and find ourselves in a best of five series, but what if the Wild Card is our destiny?

Who do the Oakland Athletics throw in a single-elimination match up against the Yankees? Manaea’s performances of late cast serious doubts as to whether he can step out there in that situation and set the tone for the game.

Is Trevor Cahill our guy? He had a dominating performance on Saturday against the Astros and you could argue that should a Wild Card game somehow end up here at the Coliseum, Cahill would be an excellent choice.

Unfortunately, Cahill only seems to appreciate home cooking this season as evidenced by his .85 ERA at home and his road ERA of 6.62. Those numbers are far too Jekyll and Hyde to have any confidence throwing him at Yankee Stadium.

That leaves us with Mike Fiers or Edwin Jackson. Yes, I purposely omitted Brett Anderson… it’s not happening! If I had to pick today, I’d have to lean towards Fiers as I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop with Jackson.

Fiers has delivered two quality starts since coming over in a trade and at this point, he seems like the pitcher most likely to deliver us to the sixth inning with a manageable game in hand.

Next. What will make A's fans happy?. dark

38 games left

We have approximately a quarter of the season left for one of these starting pitchers to stake his claim to the throne. The Oakland Athletics have played themselves into a position where a lot of “meaningful baseball” is left to be played. Let’s buckle in for the stretch run and see who rises to the occasion.