The Oakland Athletics have the best pitching staff in the AL, and it's been particularly impressive of late.
Emerging ace Sonny Gray looks to continue his own impressive stretch on the road Friday night, when the A's open a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians.Oakland (25-16) also ranks third in the majors with a 2.99 ERA. The pitchers have been dominant during a 6-1 run, compiling an overall 1.69 ERA, and the rotation has led the charge with a 1.17 mark.Tommy Milone provided the latest strong start, yielding one run in six innings before Fernando Abad and Luke Gregerson gave up three eighth-inning runs in Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox.Manager Bob Melvin isn't surprised to see consistency from the rotation."Starters tend to be close," Melvin told the team's official website, "and they definitely feed off of each other."Giving the ball to Gray (4-1, 2.17 ERA) at Progressive Field for the first time could keep the A's rolling on the mound. The right-hander is 4-0 with a 1.41 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 32 innings over his last five starts on the road dating to last year.Gray was sharp for all but one of his seven innings at home Saturday, when all three runs he allowed came in the third of a 4-3 win in 10 over Washington.He pitched well enough to beat the Indians (19-22) on opening day, striking out seven through six scoreless innings while not getting a decision in a 2-0 loss.Oakland's starters allowed two runs in 18 innings in that series, but the team dropped two of three thanks in large part to the bullpen yielding seven in nine.The A's were swept in a four-game series in their only visit to Cleveland last year.The Indians have lost three of five after winning a season-high four games in a row. They fell 4-2 at Toronto on Thursday, one day after a 15-4 win that featured a season high in runs and hits (22).Another offensive outburst may be needed with Zach McAllister (3-3, 3.89) getting the ball. The right-hander is 0-3 with a 5.75 ERA over his last four starts after winning his previous three while posting a 1.37 ERA.His recent struggles continued Saturday, when he was tagged for five runs and eight hits while being pulled with one out in the fifth of a 7-1 loss at Tampa Bay.McAllister, who has failed to complete the fifth in two of three outings, is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA in four career starts versus the A's. However, he was superb over 7 2/3 innings of a 1-0 win in his most recent home meeting against them.Coco Crisp, a member of the Indians from 2002-05, might return after sitting out seven games with a neck strain. He's 7 for 19 (.368) with two doubles, one homer and three RBIs over his past four road games against his former club.If Crisp remains out of the lineup, John Jaso may replace him in the leadoff spot again. The catcher is 8 for 17 with three homers, two doubles and four RBIs in the last four games at the top of the lineup."He's getting some consistent at-bats with Coco out," Melvin said of Jaso, who's also 4 for 10 lifetime versus McAllister. "He has led off before and he's always profiled as an on-base guy, but now he's swinging the bat well, too."
Yoenis Cespedes is a career .163 hitter on pitches in the upper third of the strike zone or higher, and only five of his 56 career home runs have come against those pitches. Since the start of last season, Zach McAllister leads all qualified pitchers by throwing 42 percent of his pitches in the upper third of the strike zone or higher.