By Morris Phillips
For the A’s, home run pop comes with a price.
Khris Davis made A’s fans proud with his laser shot Sunday, into the left field seats at the Bronx Zoo, traveling at no point more than 40 feet above the playing surface. Davis’ two-run shot in the eighth made a game of it again, and pulled the A’s within two runs of the Yankees, trailing 7-5.
But a half inning earlier, there was Davis rolling around in left field after Gary Sanchez launched a ball toward the foul line and Davis appeared to catch it only to see it squirt out of his glove, and briefly out of his sight. Almost an out, Sanchez’ drive instead was an RBI double scoring Ronald Torreyes, and increasing the New York lead to 7-3. And highlight worthy, unfortunately due to Davis’ turn and crawl to retrieve the ball.
In the second inning, Matt Joyce inexplicably dropped a fly ball. That allowed the Yankees to load the bases, and then cash in on the scoring opportunity with Aaron Judge’s grand slam. Before that, Davis had a chance to throw out Starlin Castro, trying to advance from first to third on a single. But Davis’ throw was slow and inaccurate, allowing trail runner Didi Gregorius to advance to second.
With all the sloppy defense, the Yankees built a six-run total after four innings with only one extra-base hit. That put the normally-reliable Andrew Triggs on the hook for the loss despite allowing only one earned run. The other five were unearned and equipped the Yankees with plenty in a 9-5 win over the road-challenged A’s.
While the A’s have undeniable pop–their home run total of 70 in 49 games puts them in the AL’s top three as a team–their defense has been awful. The A’s 49 errors tops all major league clubs, while a trio of clubs (Cardinals, Cubs and Padres) that rank second worst have committed 12 fewer errors than the A’s.
That’s bad. Given the numerous errors, no degree of offensive ability can put the A’s in the win column consistently. A frustrated manager Bob Melvin sees a psychological disadvantage for his club as well with all the miscues.
“If we make plays, it’s probably a different story, and that’s been an Achilles’ heel for us all year. When your defense is poor, sometimes it’s mentally tough to overcome that,” Melvin explained.
Sunday’s loss prevented the A’s from capturing a critical series in the ballpark of the AL East leaders. It also dropped them to 7-17 on the road, the worst road mark in the American League, and just a half-game ahead of Miami’s big-league worst 7-18 mark.
Thinking along with Melvin, with the Yankees announcing Michael Pineda as their starter, an A’s lineup loaded with power hitters made sense. Pineda came in having allowed 11 home runs in 53 innings this season, so Melvin likely figured a lineup with 9 of his top 11 home threats could take advantage of Pineda. But with Matt Joyce in right, Mark Canha in center and Davis in left, Melvin’s outfield defense was compromised, minus Rajai Davis in center.
Also, Melvin took a chance batting Canha leadoff for the first time in his career, and saw the decision backfire. Canha went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts dropping his average to .234. In the two slot, Stephen Vogt also went 0 for 4, giving the A’s no table setting ahead of their 3 through 6 hitters.
And Pineda escaped, keeping the A’s in the ballpark for six innings, allowing only a ground rule double to Yonder Alonso for Oakland’s sole extra-base hit prior to Davis’ homer in the eighth off reliever Chad White.
Meanwhile, defensively, the A’s two errors and other misplays were killers.
NOTES: Kendall Graveman has been placed on the disabled list, and Daniel Mengden will take his turn in the rotation on Monday in Cleveland. Mengden made 14 starts in 2016, and was 2-9 with a 6.50 ERA. Carlos Carrasco will oppose Mengden as the A’s visit Progressive Field for Memorial Day, the start of a big week of competition for the cities of Oakland and Cleveland with Game 1 of the NBA Finals on tap for Thursday.