One Run Or Fewer: A’s offense continues to struggle in 4-1 loss at Anaheim

By Morris Phillips

Look at the A’s schedule: they haven’t seen much AL West competition thus far, and with those teams that know them best up now, the obvious conclusion is that things could get worse.

Things got worse this weekend in Anaheim. For that, the A’s can point to Patrick Sandoval and Shohei Ohtani. We’ll call them the usual suspects.

Ohtani homered–as did Mike Trout–and the Angels cruised to a 4-1 win over the A’s as Sandoval deftly managed his effective offerings to reach the eighth inning. If the score and result looks familiar, it’s because it is. Last Sunday in Oakland, Sandoval cruised, and Ohtani homered in the first inning in the A’s 4-1 loss. This first round of AL West rival action clearly goes to Anaheim, winners of five of the first seven of 19 contests between the clubs.

The toothless A’s have dropped 20 of 29 after an encouraging 8-6 start to the season. And Sunday marked the 16th time the team has scored one run or fewer (1-15 in those games). Against Sandoval, the A’s managed three singles and Kevin Smith’s eighth inning double. Christian Pache, mired in a 1 for 23 stretch, knocked in Smith for the A’s only run.

“For my money, when he has fastball command, he should normally be pitching in the seventh, eighth, ninth inning,” manager Joe Maddon said of Sandoval. “The way his stuff is, they don’t get good swings at it. Don’t get good looks at it.”

Sandoval’s brilliance allowed the Angels’ bats to be patient with A’s starter Cole Irvin, who was returning from a stint on the injured list. The Angels got single runs in the first, second and fifth against Irvin. Trout homered off Justin Grimm in the seventh, a laser inside the left field foul pole.

The A’s are 2-5 in a stretch of games against divisional opponents that continues through June 1. Seattle is next, then Texas and Houston. The A’s will have to pick up their offense to compete. But their gutty starters have faltered as of late too. Irvin’s loss on Sunday drops the Oakland starters to 0-6 over the last 10 games.

But the issues don’t stop there: seven A’s errors over the last nine games have the defense showing wear. Thirty errors in 43 games ranks the team near the bottom of the American League.

On Monday, the A’s open a three-game set against the Mariners in Seattle with Zach Logue facing Marco Gonzales.

Guardians Make Them Fend For Themselves: Kaprelian roughed up in season debut, A’s lose 7-3

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND, CA–Comfortable opponents are bad news. The Guardians’ Tristan McKenzie was that guy Sunday, mowing down A’s hitters at the Coliseum like he owned the place.

McKenzie pitching into the seventh inning, scattering three hits, and departed with a 6-0 lead. Throughout the 24-year old’s confidence and command of his pitches dominated the afternoon. The Guardians cruised to a 7-3 win and a road sweep of the weekend series.

“To call pitches for a guy like that is awfully fun because even when he’s got something else in mind, you really can’t go wrong when he executes well,” McKenzie’ catcher Luke Maile said of him.

“There were times where he lost the strike zone, but he reeled it back in in a hurry, as opposed to 3-4 hitters,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

“For me to be successful, a lot of it is mixing my pitches up and keeping guys guessing,” McKenzie said. “We stuck to the game plan really well today.”

Getting just one runner in scoring position was challenging for Oakland, and didn’t happen until McKenzie was at the end of his shift in the seventh. The loss marked a continuation of the host’s tip-your-hat portion of the schedule. The A’s have managed just three runs or less in eight of their most recent 10 games.

The A’s biggest moments came in the ninth when they narrowed a 7-0 deficit with three runs on the strength of Kevin Smith’s RBI double, which was preceded by Chad Pinder’s RBI sacrifice fly, and Christian Bethancourt’s pinch-hit double. The loss was their sixth in the last eight games.

“It was a tough series for us, losing those first two games the way we did,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “Going into today, I thought we had good energy, but we fell behind, and when you get behind, it puts a lot of pressure on our offense.”

James Kaprelian’s season debut was disturbing in that the returning starter said afterwards he felt fine but couldn’t find the strike zone in a ragged stretch in the third inning. Kaprelian dutifully rehabbed his shoulder only to see 12 of his final 13 pitches Sunday translate to three, consecutive walks.

“I pride myself in being able to attack guys and throw strikes and pitch off my fastball and I didn’t do that,” Kaprelian said. “I just need to do a better job, flat-out.”

The A’s trailed 5-0 after Kaprelian’s departure, 6-0 after four, and 7-0 after six innings. Pinder was the only Athletic to get a second hit but he was written into the seventh slot in Kotsay’s batting order.

The A’s face the Rays at the Coliseum on Monday night, the opener of a three-game set. Daulton Jeffries gets the start opposite Tampa Bay’s Drew Rasmussen.

Stanford outlasts Huskies to go 5-0

By Jeremy Harness

STANFORD – Head coach David Shaw said that what he likes most about his team is the mental toughness that it has, that “of all the things you can ask for as a coach, that’s what you want.”

That’s what got Stanford through in the fourth quarter, as No. 15 Washington put the pressure on time and again in the fourth quarter while it gripped tightly to a three-point lead.

Although Stanford never trailed in the game, it wasn’t really over until the Keith Price’s would-be first-down pass to Kevin Smith on fourth down was ruled incomplete with 1:15 remaining, allowing the Cardinal to run out the clock and avenge their only loss last year in Pac-12 play, coming away with a 31-28 win Saturday night at Stanford Stadium, marking the third time since World War II that Stanford has started the season with a 5-0 record.

Getting stops against Price was by no means easy, especially Saturday night. The dual-threat quarterback torched Stanford for 350 yards by completing 33 of his 48 throws, and even though the Cardinal sacked him five times, there were plenty other opportunities.

“We were trying to keep him in the pocket, but he kept high-stepping (out of trouble),” Trent Murphy said. “But we just couldn’t put him down.”

If anyone had a turnaround game from last year’s humbling loss to the Huskies, it was Ty Montgomery, who had a less-than-glorious performance in Seattle. This time around, he sliced the Huskies up for 290 all-purpose yards, including taking the opening kickoff 99 yards to give Stanford a lightning-quick 7-0 lead as well as a touchdown catch with 10 seconds left in the first half.

“(Also,) when he wasn’t carrying the ball, he was blocking his tail off,” Shaw said. “I would say that Ty was the difference in the ballgame. He’s a special player that we think his future is extremely bright, and he’s only going to get better.”

After that opening kickoff, the rest of the first quarter was a real struggle between two of the top defenses in the nation. The Huskies got as far as the Stanford 44 before they were forced to punt the ball away and were not able to get into any sort of rhythm on offense, a far cry from what they’ve been accustomed to this year.

Stanford’s offense, on the other hand, fared a tad better than Washington’s but ultimately came away with only three more points. The Cardinal advanced into Husky territory three times in the quarter but turned the ball over twice, once on an interception and the other on downs, as a fourth-and-four pass at the Washington 30 fell incomplete.

The Cardinal got to Washington’s 35 late in the second quarter, but rather than try a long field goal that would have been around 50 yards, they elected to punt it away and put the rest of the half in the hands of the defense.

That move backfired, though. Washington suddenly found its offensive groove and drove 88 yards down the field and capped things off with a 7-yard touchdown run by Bishop Sankey to cut Stanford’s lead to three.

Stanford countered beautifully to bring that lead back up. To close out the first half, Kevin Hogan saw Montgomery single-covered on the right side and dropped in deep ball on Montgomery’s outside shoulder for a 38-yard touchdown that cornerback Marcus Peters, who had intercepted Hogan earlier in the half, had no chance of defending.

While the first quarter was a struggle on offense for both teams, the third quarter was anything but. Washington took the ball to start the quarter and again ripped the Stanford defense, this time for 75 yards on only four plays and capping it off by getting into the end zone. Keith Price, using his legs to maneuver out of trouble, found an open Kevin Smith for a 29-yard touchdown to again cut the Stanford lead to a trio.

The Cardinal’s ensuing drive was a bit more time-consuming and methodical, but it ended up netting the same result. They ran the ball seven times on that drive, simply moving the chains until they got into position to strike. Hogan’s 4-yard touchdown did just that.

Washington answered with a touchdown of their later in the quarter and was again within striking distance late in the fourth, riding the legs of Sankey and the dual skills of Price to pierce their way inside the Stanford 10. At that point, Stanford’s came up with the big play that it needed. Linebacker Trent Murphy got his hand on a Price pass and knocked it straight into the air, and A.J Tarpley came down with it to thwart the rally.

But that didn’t stop the Huskies. They got a big stop of their own and forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, getting the ball back with plenty of time left in the game. They once again got deep into Cardinal territory, but this time, they were able to punch it in to cut the lead to three.

Stanford, however, could not put them away, as the Huskies drove just past midfield with a chance to tie or even win the game until the fourth-down pass fell through Smith’s hands.

“It’s not a beauty contest; it’s a football game,” Shaw said. “No matter how imperfect the whole game is, (when) we get to the fourth quarter, we’ve got to finish.

“Our guys finished well.”