With superior pitching staffs keeping their teams afloat while their offenses rank in baseball’s bottom half, Oakland and Toronto combining for just seven runs in their two matchups this week comes as no surprise.
The series between these mirror-image clubs will be decided Thursday, when each looks to continue its recent success as the Athletics close a nine-game homestand against the Blue Jays.
Both the A’s (29-24) and Blue Jays (29-26) have winning records primarily because of recent five-game winning streaks powered by their pitching. Oakland’s run was snapped by Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Toronto, but the A’s still have allowed just 10 runs in their last six games. They lead the majors with a 3.20 team ERA and a .233 opponent batting average.
The Blue Jays are second in both categories at 3.38 and .234. They had won five straight before losing 3-1 in Tuesday’s series opener, and they’ve given up just 11 runs in their last seven contests.
With Toronto’s Jesse Litsch and Oakland’s Dana Eveland on the hill for Thursday afternoon’s tilt - and both pitchers coming off their first career complete games - runs figure to be just as difficult to come by.
Litsch (6-1, 3.57 ERA) scattered seven hits in Saturday’s 6-0 win over Kansas City. The right-hander has won his last four decisions, with a 2.31 ERA over that span, and he hadn’t walked a batter in a franchise-record 38 2-3 consecutive innings before issuing a free pass in the ninth inning against the Royals.
“I try to pound the zone every time I go out there,” Litsch said. “The key to my game is pounding the zone, making contact and using my defense.”
Saturday’s shutout also extended Litsch’s record in day games this season to 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA. Despite an 0-1 record against the A’s, Litsch has given up just two earned runs in 13 innings against them.
Eveland (4-3, 2.90) blanked Toronto for 6 1-3 innings during Oakland’s three-game sweep at Rogers Centre last month, though he did not get a decision in what is his only start versus the Blue Jays.
The left-hander also has been better in day games this year, going 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA, and he will be pitching on seven days’ rest due to the A’s rearranging their rotation. In his last outing on May 21, Eveland tossed a three-hitter in Oakland’s 9-1 afternoon win over Tampa Bay.
He battled problems with efficiency earlier in the season, but that wasn’t an issue against the Rays as he needed only 95 pitches to get through nine innings.
“I finally have fulfilled as deep as I can possibly go in a game,” the 24-year-old Eveland told the A’s official Web site. “I definitely wanted a shutout, but I’ll take this.”
He’ll likely have to pitch without the support of one of Oakland’s biggest bats. Designated hitter Frank Thomas, who is 11-for-24 with four home runs and six RBIs on the current homestand, missed Wednesday’s game and could be headed for the disabled list with an inflamed right knee.
Thomas, who started the season with Toronto, injured the knee on his 40th birthday Tuesday, and is hoping to avoid further injury.
“The MRI looks pretty bad,” Thomas said. “When you’re messing with a tendon that big with my age, it could rupture and that would take a long time.”
While Oakland is tied for 16th in the majors with 236 runs despite Thomas’ production, the Blue Jays are 26th with 211 runs as they remain without injured center fielder Vernon Wells.
Alex Rios’ RBI double in the ninth inning provided the winning margin for Toronto ace Roy Halladay on Wednesday. The Jays, looking for their third straight series victory in Oakland, have won seven of nine on the road and 12 of 16 overall, moving three games over .500 for the first time all season.