Mired in a losing streak that matches their longest of the season, the Oakland Athletics hope Jon Lester can continue his recent success and get them back on track.
Looking to improve to 4-0 with his new team, Lester tries to help the A's avoid a fifth consecutive defeat Sunday night against the Atlanta Braves.Oakland (73-50) has totaled 22 runs while losing six of seven, with half coming in an 11-3 rout of Kansas City on Tuesday. One night after recording four hits in a 7-2 loss at Atlanta, the A's managed five in a 4-3 defeat Saturday.While the A's have struggled, the Los Angeles Angels have won four in a row to overtake Oakland atop the AL West by two percentage points. It's the first time since April 23 that Oakland does not have sole possession of first place."It's tough to go through this as a team, but I feel like everyone goes through it and maybe this is our time right now," losing pitcher Sonny Gray said."We've just got to go out there and play with confidence."Though the A's are batting .225 and have scored three or fewer runs 12 times in 16 games since sending slugger Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for Lester, they hope the left-hander can stop the bleeding.Lester (13-7, 2.51 ERA) allowed three runs and struck out nine in six innings Tuesday at Kansas City to improve to 3-0 with a 2.49 ERA with Oakland. He is 7-0 with a 1.46 ERA in 11 starts since losing at Detroit on June 7.He allowed three runs and struck out seven in six innings of a 6-3 victory at Atlanta on May 27 to improve to 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA against the Braves.Atlanta's Jason Heyward is 6 for 31 in his last eight contests, but 4 for 6 with two doubles and a home run against Lester.Chris Johnson is 0 for 2 versus Lester, but had three hits with two RBIs as the Braves (63-60) won back-to-back contests for the first time since winning three straight over San Diego from July 26-28."We're not giving up. We're not going to crumble," Johnson said.Teammate Freddie Freeman is batting .472 with eight RBIs in his last 10 games.After posting an 8.71 ERA in his previous four starts and having a turn skipped in the rotation, Atlanta's Mike Minor (4-8, 5.33) held the Los Angeles Dodgers to three runs and struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings of a 4-2 defeat on Tuesday."He was really, really good," Gonzalez told MLB's official website. "I hope that continues. I can't wait for his next start."Facing Oakland for the first time, Minor is 0-3 with a 3.46 ERA in his last six interleague starts. The Braves have scored eight runs with him on the mound during that stretch, and one over the last three.With a two-run homer Saturday, Oakland's Stephen Vogt is batting .367 with three home runs and eight RBIs in eight contests since enduring an 0-for-21 slump.
Jon Lester throws his cutter 30.1 percent of the time, fifth most in the majors amongst qualified pitchers. Lester has a major league leading 63 strikeouts with his cutter, more strikeouts than he has with any other pitch. The Atlanta Braves are tied with the Minnesota Twins this season for the most strikeouts against cutters. Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson are tied for the major league lead in strikeouts against cutters with 11.