Even the pitcher with the best ERA in baseball has had trouble helping the Oakland Athletics, whose anemic offense has them on the verge of their first double-digit losing streak in more than 14 years.
Justin Duchscherer will seek to prevent that while earning his first victory in nearly a month on Thursday at Rogers Centre, where the Toronto Blue Jays go for their first-ever four-game sweep of the free-falling A’s.
Oakland’s slumping bats haven’t scored more than three runs in any game during the club’s nine-game losing streak, as the A’s (53-60) have stumbled from contender in the AL West to the second-biggest deficit of any AL team.
They trailed the first-place Los Angeles Angels by just four games on July 11, but have since dropped 18 of 20 to fall 17 1/2 games behind the Angels. The only team in a bigger hole is last-place Seattle, which is 27 games back of Los Angeles.
Oakland has averaged 2.65 runs while hitting .214 in its last 20 games, losing all four of Duchscherer’s starts during that stretch even though the right-hander has allowed two or fewer runs in three of his outings.
The A’s only managed three hits in a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Wednesday as Toronto starter Shaun Marcum, who had struggled since coming off the disabled list last month, didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning.
With one more loss, the Athletics, who have made numerous trades since the offseason to stockpile prospects in apparent preparation for the future, would have dropped 10 in a row for the first time since a 12-game slide from April 19-30, 1994. They also dropped their last nine games in 1995 and the first three in 1996.
“It’s very frustrating,” shortstop Bobby Crosby said. “We need to get a win here. This isn’t too fun. We’ve got to pick it up. When guys are in scoring position, we’ve got to get a knock or get it done some way because this is a pretty frustrating time.”
A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.57 ERA) will hope to keep it that way, even though he has struggled against Oakland this year. The right-hander is 0-1 with a 6.97 ERA in two starts against the A’s, but he struck out 10 and allowed two earned runs in 5 2-3 innings against them in a 3-1 loss on May 27.
Burnett, looking to become Toronto’s first 14-game winner ahead of teammate and former Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, has been racking up the wins recently, earning victories in his last three starts and going 7-2 with a 3.28 ERA in his last nine outings, striking out 63 in 60 1-3 innings over that span.
“It’s fun for me to see that,” Halladay told his team’s official Web site. “I’m obviously happy for him and I hope it continues. It’s fun to have those little battles back and forth.”
Duchscherer (10-7, 2.33), meanwhile, hasn’t won since July 8. The major league ERA leader has never made a start against the Blue Jays, though he has a 1.96 ERA in 10 relief appearances against them, giving up four runs and 10 hits in 18 1-3 innings.
Toronto (58-56) has won 13 of its last 17 at home, and five straight overall versus the A’s after dropping the first four games against them this year. It has not won a season series against Oakland since 2002.