Texas-Sized Problems: A’s bats go quiet at the wrong time in 4-3 loss to the Rangers

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–In a lot of ways, Sunday’s A’s game was lost on Saturday.

The agonizing 4-3 defeat to the Rangers at the Coliseum saw the A’s fall behind 4-0 through four innings, then rally to trail just 4-3 after six. But the final three innings were quiet ones; the A’s went hitless as they failed to even challenge Texas’ slim lead.

And if Sunday was bad, Saturday was worse, thus the conclusion that the struggling club lost whatever momentum it had in a brutal 8-6 loss in which the Rangers wiped out a four-run deficit in the final two frames as the bullpen again failed to hold a lead.

Instead of a potential five-game win streak to pull the A’s within a game of Boston for the second wild card spot, the A’s have lost 17 of 26 and can’t seem to get over the hump. Losing has a wearing effect, especially for a ballclub not blessed with a great deal of depth, and stuck in a rut with its pitching.

What’s clear is the A’s have been afforded opportunities, including this current stretch of nine games against three clubs with losing records. Along with that, the teams in front of them in the standings have flatlined with the Yankees winning just three of their last 10, and the Red Sox at .500 (5-5).

One issue is the Rangers, a team that stands 26 games below .500 after consecutive wins in Oakland, and has found a way–time and time again–to cool the A’s hitters. The season series between the A’s and Rangers concludes with the A’s holding a slim 10-9 advantage, and five of those nine Rangers’ wins have seen the A’s score three runs or less, including Sunday.

Not that the A’s didn’t do good things against the Rangers, most notably hit 34 homers in the 19 games between the clubs, just one home run off their franchise record for home runs against one club in one season. But often it was homer and little else. On Sunday, Yan Gomes homered in the fifth, and Matt Olson in the sixth, but the remainder of the Oakland output was three singles and a walk. A’s hitters in spots six through nine went hitless, drawing the only walk.

It didn’t help that Matt Chapman was unavailable after fouling a ball off his shin on Saturday, or that Mitch Moreland was in Alabama seeking a second opinion on his injured wrist that has sidelined him for two weeks.

James Kaprelian allowed all four Rangers’ runs, and fell to 7-5 on the season in the process. Kaprelian surrendered eight hits and a walk. He was lifted in the fourth by manager Bob Melvin, who probably couldn’t afford to be patient with the season on the line in these final 20 games.

Taylor Hearn went six innings for the Rangers, allowing the two home runs but little else. The reliever turned starter didn’t walk anybody, but gassed out after 80 pitches, a sign his transformation from reliever to starter isn’t yet complete.

The A’s hit the road for six ballgames starting Tuesday in Kansas City, then on to Anaheim for a weekend meeting with the Angels. Frankie Montas will be looking to pick up his 13th win of the season in the opener.

Where’s the Help? Gomes, Marte and Harrison answer the call for the A’s in 8-3 win over the Angels

By Morris Phillips

Veterans making their debut with a new club are more likely to go well than a rookie getting his MLB debut in the face of a powerful, above average big league offense.

That in a nutshell was the story of the A’s-Angels series finale in Anaheim that went to the A’s 8-3 on Sunday.

The A’s trio of trade deadline acquisitions–Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison and Starling Marte–combined for six hits and three stolen bases. Reid Detmers, 22, the Angels highly touted pitching prospect with just 13 professional appearances under his belt, allowed two homers and six earned runs in taking the loss in his big league debut.

“Obviously, I’ve been dreaming of that moment since I was a little kid,” Detmers said. “Obviously, it didn’t go as planned. But that’s baseball. Just got to bounce back. I’m looking forward to my next start. I’m just enjoying the moment right now.”

Detmers struggled with his fastball command, couldn’t get the proper touch on his offspeed pitches, and saw his entire afternoon blow up in the third inning when Matt Olson hit a three-run homer followed by Gomes’ two-run shot. That wiped out a 3-0 Angels lead and sent the home team, desperate to change the tenor of the division rivalry, to a 12th loss to the A’s in 16 meetings in 2021.

“The slider and the curveball kind of became moot,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He just could not land them where he wanted to and then it put them in good hitting counts, and they got him.”

The A’s early rally allowed Daulton Jeffries to ditch the jitters, expected as the A’s No. 4 prospect was making just his second major league appearance with the first coming last season in a COVID-protect environment, which translated was an empty stadium without opposing fans looking to throw you off your stride. Veteran catcher Gomes did the trick there as well, settling Jeffries.

“Yan came up to me and said, ‘Hey, your stuff is good. Just take a little more time between pitches and breathe,’” Jeffries said. “My mind was relaxed but my body was ready to go, so I just had to create a little balance.”

Jeffries retired eight of the final 10 hitters he faced, and a quartet of A’s relievers took it from there. Yusmeiro Petit, Jake Diekman, newly acquired Andrew Chafina and Sergio Romo each handled an inning, combing to allow the Angels just two hits, and no more than one baserunner at any juncture, ideal for stopping a team intent on a comeback dead in its tracks.

Meanwhile, the A’s added on with Gomes’ RBI single in the fifth, and Jed Lowrie’s single in the seventh that knocked in two runs. If Gomes, acquired from the Nationals, sounds like the second coming of “Crash” Davis from Bull Durham from his multifaceted contributions on Sunday, he’s not. But the 34-year old catcher with his fourth club in his 10th major league season is having a resurgent season, clubbing 10 home runs and batting .274 in 63 games with the Nats, and one game with the A’s. Gomes has now hit double-digit homers in seven of his 10 seasons, and will likely be a quality backup to Sean Murphy behind the plate.

Marte provided three hits–and three stolen bases–just what an offense that’s capable but has been prone to droughts needs. The A’s are below average in batting average, and prone to strikeouts without being overly capable of drawing walks. Marte helps in all those areas, currently hitting .306 with 32 walks drawn in 63 games.

Harrison contributed a hit, but wowed at second base where he turned a pair of double plays on balls hit by Shohei Ohtani. That marked the first time Ohtani’s been doubled up twice in a game this season, and caught the eye of manager Bob Melvin.

“Those are pretty good double plays, you don’t see Ohtani hit into too many double plays,” Melvin said.

The A’s return to the Coliseum on Tuesday for a meeting with the Padres, and a glut of off-days in the upcoming 10 days will determine whether Jeffries gets another turn in the rotation or James Kaprelian’s health improves enough for him to reassume his position in the rotation.

A’s drop another one in Seattle, have competition for 2nd wild card spot

By Morris Phillips

Only one major league club is neither currently holding a postseason spot or tethered to an uninspiring .500 won-loss record or below. Increasing the growing interest around that club: they haven’t made a postseason appearance since 2001. That only one club would hold this distinction so close to the trade deadline is unusual.

But thanks to the Oakland A’s and a string of three, consecutive one-run losses, the Seattle Mariners are picking up steam and notoriety.

“It’s been preached this rebuild so much, but I mean we’re right there on the edge of this thing,” Seattle’s Kyle Seager said. “Certainly you would like to have them make moves and get the team as good as we possibly can.”

The A’s came to Seattle looking to create space between themselves and the Mariners. Instead they won the opener, and spent an additional three days in the Emerald City being miserable.

“Last night stung,” said Sunday’s A’s starter Cole Irvin. “Anytime you lose a one-run game against a team in your division, and on top of that, fighting for the Wild Card spot in your possession, it’s not easy to swallow. We’re gonna have to bounce back here and collect ourselves.”

So for now, the AL West is a three-team battle, and that increases intrigue with the trade deadline approaching this week. The Mariners in particular have players that have tremendous value on the trade market, most notably slugger Mitch Haniger and resurgent, remade reliever Kendall Graveman. Now with the longest playoff drought in the game hanging over their heads, they’ll have no choice but to hang onto their assets, as well as look to add a couple of pieces.

“The teams that feel like they have a chance to go after a division title or a Wild Card berth, there’s going to be a lot of movement,” manager Scott Servais said. “I think it all comes down to the last 72 hours, and being a part of a lot of those discussions, in my past, I realize how that all works.”

Marco Gonzales pitched into the sixth inning for Seattle, and left with a 4-2 lead courtesy of a four-run, third inning that saddled Irvin with the loss. Kyle Seager, Luis Torrens and Tom Murphy came up with RBI hits in the inning, and the A’s found themselves unable to mount a suitable response. Seth Brown’s solo shot off Casey Sadler brought the A’s within 4-3 in the seventh, but that was all they could muster.

The Mariners improved to 23-8 in one-run ballgames, and pulled within a game-and-a-half of the A’s for the second wild card. Seattle started fast two seasons ago–the last time they were as many as eight games above .500–but then they went into the tank. By the All-Star break, their 2019 season had already fallen apart. Since 2001, Seattle has won 90 games twice and finished second in the AL West three times. In that same span, the A’s have made nine postseason appearances, but have advanced to the ALCS only once.

Now both teams are in each other’s cross hairs. It figures to be exciting.

“As tough as it’s been, we know we’re a team that can get hot or ride it out. We just need a big hit or a big game,” Matt Olson said. “Something to spark us a little bit and get rolling.”

Derby Prep: Olson goes deep twice in All-Star Break finale win over the Rangers

By Morris Phillips

Matt Olson got into the swing of things–Home Run Derby style–by homering twice in the A’s 4-1 win over the Rangers on Sunday. But Olson wasn’t the only one swinging for the fences.

Jed Lowrie and Sean Murphy homered back-to-back in the second inning.

With Chris Bassitt on a career-best roll, winning his 10th consecutive decision with seven innings of near flawless pitching, the A’s finished the first half of the season with a pair of wins after dropping 13 of their previous 19 contests.

Not surprisingly, Olson slumped as the team did: the slugging first baseman had just one homer in his previous 18 games coming into Sunday. Now he settles into his role as an All-Star and Home Run Derby participant with 23 bombs on the season.

“In the past we’ve been a home run-hitting team,” Olson said. “It was good to get back and see some leave the yard.”

The A’s have hit 115 home runs in their 92 games thus far, putting them well above the league average of 106, and among the top ten home run hitting clubs in MLB. Still, their offense has been spotty, surprisingly more so at home in the Coliseum, but the starting pitching has been exemplary, and the bullpen has been above average despite the absence of closer Trevor Rosenthal.

“Obviously we’d like to be in first place in the division and we’re not, but hopefully we come out and whatever that second half magic is we’ve had in the past, we keep it going,” Olson said.

The A’s trail the division-leading Astros by 3 1/2 games heading into the break after leading the division for 60 days, and now trailing the Astros for 20 days.

Bassitt improved to 10-2 on the season by pitching far better than he did in his start at Houston, in which he allowed six runs but somehow avoided a loss in a game the team lost 9-6. This time, Bassitt allowed an RBI double to Nick Solak and only four hits in total.

Rangers starter Koby Allard not only needs a break, he needs a break from the A’s specifically as he lost to Oakland for the third time in the last 18 days, and has dropped five, consecutive starts to the A’s. Allard allowed all four A’s home runs, and three of the four traveled over 400 feet.

The A’s open the second half at home against Cleveland and the Angels, but the homestand only spans five games before the team hits the road for a three-city, 10-game trip.

Fireworks Cancelled: A’s shutout by Red Sox 1-0, face questions and the Astros next

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–Envision Nelson Cruz or Kyle Seager in an A’s uniform. After a listless 1-0 loss at the Coliseum, the Oakland offense could use some pop.

“We’re down some guys,” said manager Bob Melvin, trying to make sense of his 49-win club going through a stretch of 10 losses in 15 games. “Mitch is out and Canha is out, too. We’re going to have to dig a little deeper. But I think every day we have a chance to break out of it. Obviously didn’t look good today with four hits, but I think it was just as much about them pitching well today.”

Nick Pivetta took control from the start, allowing two hits in seven innings of dominant work. The Red Sox starter didn’t win in June, going 0-3 with three no-decisions. The stretch was so tough, members of the Boston media in the press box tried to anticipate the juncture the hyped up pitcher would show his temper in a such a close, competitive game. But this time, Pivetta had all the answers, especially when the A’s tried to mount rallies in the first and seventh inning. Instead of being grumpy Pivetta, the pitcher instead talked afterwards of his ability to inspire his teammates.

“I really care about everybody on this team, I really want to do good for them, every single day I want to show up for them,” Pivetta said. “And I want to pump them up, too. I want to be energetic and I want us to have fun, and I want us to go out there and show ourselves every single night.”

James Kaprelian virtually matched Pivetta pitch for pitch in seven innings for Oakland. Kaprelian allowed just one run (on a non-RBI, double play ball), struck out 10 and scattered five hits. Like Pivetta, he was determined to keep the ball in the park as both pitchers had been hurt by long balls in recent starts. So when the Red Sox tensed up, Kaprelian eased up, leaning heavily on his changeup that had the Boston lineup flailing.

But ultimately the A’s offense was absent. After Pivetta departed, the A’s tried to cobble something together on the strength of a base hit in the eighth, and an infield single in the ninth. Neither effort struck gold, and they fell 3 1/2 games behind the Astros with a critical series against their rivals set to begin on Tuesday.

How alarming is all of this? Well, the A’s are 49-37, that’s as good a start to a season as the club has had in all but one of the last 31 seasons. But they haven’t been this far from first place since April 10, two games into their 13-game win streak that turned things around. And while they get bold checkmarks for pitching and defense, their offense is noticeably thin. With catalyst Mark Canha and Mitch Moreland currently on the injured list, they could use some help. Could they find it in the trade market?

Sure.

Well, the A’s aren’t known for spending but with such a glaring hole in their lineup, and the exemplary performance of the club to this point, they’re too smart to try to do without. And there’s that issue of home attendance as well. The A’s had their first opportunity to fill the Coliseum with COVID restrictions lifted and they failed miserably. Sunday’s attendance was a mere 13,000 plus. They won’t want that to happen again, especially with the pernicious timing of the holiday weekend not a factor going forward. So look for a bold move.

The A’s open a three-game set in Houston on Tuesday with Chris Bassitt facing Framber Valdez. Look for a performance statement from Bassitt, who was an All-Star snub despite a 9-2 record. Also, an All-Star statement could be issued by Matt Olson, who received his first mid-summer nod on Sunday and will be part of the AL’s first base rotation.

Home Run Happy: A’s stay hot in June with 6-3 win over the Royals

The Oakland A’s Matt Olson (28) gets a forearm bash from teammate Elvis Andrus (17) after hitting a fifth inning home run against the Kansas City Royals at the Oakland Coliseum Sun Jun 13, 2021 (AP News photo)

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–The 2021 A’s don’t miss many opportunities. When an opponent comes in limping, the A’s make sure they don’t get medical attention.

The A’s improved to 9-2 in June by defeating the Royals 6-3 on Sunday at the Coliseum. The A’s got big afternoons from their biggest names–Matt Olson and Chris Bassitt–in drubbing Kansas City, losers of 8 of 9 and 24 of 38 after an exemplary 16-9 start to their season.

Olson homered twice to back Bassitt, who pitched into the sixth inning, allowing five hits and two runs to win his seventh, consecutive decision. Bassitt survived a scary moment when he was hit by a batted ball and found himself face down on the turf in pain. Trainer Nick Paparesta and manager Bob Melvin nervously approached Bassitt, but the A’s ace popped up slowly and didn’t need to leave the game.

“It hit me in the perfect spot. That may sound weird,” Bassitt said. “It didn’t affect me at all.”

The Royals didn’t affect Bassitt much either. Nicky Lopez, who delivered the batted ball to Bassitt’s side also had an infield hit for an RBI single. An inning later, in the third, Andrew Benintendi touched Bassitt for a solo shot to close the A’s lead to 3-2. But Bassitt cruised from their and departed in the sixth due to his elevated pitch count, which hit 104.

Kris Bubic surrendered both of Olson’s home runs and one to Matt Chapman. That had the lefty headed to the showers in the fifth, trailing 5-2. The former Stanford pitcher has allowed nine home runs in his last four starts, after not allowing any over his first six starts of the season.

The A’s improved to 40-27 on the season, and maintained their two-game lead on the second-place Astros in the AL West. Hot Anaheim visits the Coliseum starting Monday with six consecutive wins under their belts. The Angels reside in third place in the division, but have climbed above .500 for the first time this season at 33-32.

Dylan Bundy faces the A’s Sean Manaea in the series opener at 6:40pm on Monday. Bundy failed to win any of his first 10 starts of the season, falling to 0-6, before he won his most recent start at home against the Royals. Manaea has thrown 15 innings in June, winning both of his starts via shutout while allowing just six hits.

Ramon To The Rescue: Laureano takes control late, A’s rally to beat the Orioles, 7-5

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–The second Ramon Laureano fist pump came about six minutes after the first. And in Oakland A’s parlance, that’s the definition of winning time as the centerfielder hand-delivered a 7-5 win over the Orioles at the Coliseum.

Laureano’s first act was a leaping catch of D.J. Stewart’s drive to the centerfield wall that would have broken a 5-5 tie and given the Orioles an eighth-inning lead. Instead, Stewart stood motionless at the plate staring at Laureano with the ball snow-coned in his glove. The great catch picked up reliever Yusmeiro Petit–who responded with a fist pump of his own–and left Ryan Mountcastle stranded at second base.

Then with two outs in the bottom of the inning, and Mark Canha on board with a single, Laureano delivered a go-ahead two-run homer off Travis Lakins, who hadn’t allowed a run and only two hits in his previous nine appearances this season.

“He’s unbelievable out there in center,” starting pitcher Sean Manaea said of Laureano. “Each time it just impresses you a little bit more than it already has, which is insane because the bar is already crazy high. It’s awesome.”

“That’s just taking over a game,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s taking away two and giving you two. That’s pretty dramatic stuff.”

The win eased the frustration of dropping three straight to Baltimore and kept the A’s ahead of the pack in the AL West, a game in front of the Mariners, and a game-and-a-half ahead of the Astros.

The A’s came in a week removed from their 13-game win streak, a stark reminder in itself that the team had won just three of 15 outside the streak, including eight losses at home. Getting swept by the Orioles, along with producing baseball’s most bizarre story of the weekend–Jesus Luzardo breaking his finger while playing video games–wasn’t the team’s preference for sure.

But the improving O’s gave the A’s all they could handle, tying the game, 2-2 in the third, 4-4 in the fifth, then briefly leading 5-4 in the seventh.

It was at that point the A’s took control and the Orioles’ two bullpen standouts–Lakins and Paul Fry–uncharacteristically allowed runs to score. That Laureano was in the middle of it all wasn’t a surprise, the defensive standout has developed a reputation for lifting his team in high-leverage situations.

The A’s welcome back Marcus Semien on Monday, as the Blue Jays arrive for a four-game set with Frankie Montas and Steven Matz battling in the opener.

A’s win streak hits eight, sweep the Tigers with 3-2 walk off job

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–The A’s tried to give Sunday’s contest away, but it was the Tigers that actually booted it, on Jeimer Candelario’s fielding error in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Mitch Moreland’s sharply hit ground ball got under Candelario’s glove and body, allowing Matt Olson to score from second base, in the A’s 3-2 win at the Coliseum.

What appeared to be an unlikely mistake with the game on the line gained greater context in the recent history between the two clubs in which the A’s have dominated, winning 22 of 23 since June 2015. Simply, disaster strikes Detroit when facing the A’s, and the Tigers’ new manager A.J. Hinch is merely catching up to the facts.

“Everything that kind of could go wrong did go wrong in this four-game series,” Hinch said. “We didn’t hit and then ultimately we just couldn’t finish them all off.”

Before the game’s deciding play, the A’s did plenty to damage their hopes, especially in leaving a baserunner stranded at third base in the fourth and eighth innings, as five Oakland hitters failed to hit the ball past the infield, and three of the five struck out. Overall, the A’s were 0 for 7 with a runner in scoring position, along with Mark Canha getting picked off first base in the second, and Aramis Garcia hitting into a double play in the fifth.

But while the A’s shot themselves in the foot on the basepaths, starter Chris Bassitt was keeping the A’s afloat with his first exemplary outing of 2021.

Bassitt went six innings, striking out eight, and retiring 14 of 15 in one stretch. The 32-year old veteran relied heavily on his mid-90’s cutter throughout, and caused Detroit’ batters pause with occasional curves and changeups. After being uncharacteristically wild at Arizona, Bassitt controlled his space by starting 15 of 25 batters with strikes, and issuing just two free passes.

“I thought he threw great,” manager Bob Melvin said of Bassitt. “We just didn’t score enough, didn’t support him enough early on. But he only ends up giving up two runs and keeping us in the game.”

The sixth inning offered the Tigers an opportunity they couldn’t refuse or squander, that after an amazing streak of 23 scoreless innings dating back to the first inning on Friday. Candelario drew a leadoff walk, then Willi Castro singled. With two outs, and after both runners advanced, Harold Castro delivered a two-run single and the lead to the Tigers.

Castro’s master stroke effectively ended Bassitt’s afternoon as well, but it didn’t end Detroit’s misfortune at the Coliseum.

In the bottom of ninth with the game tied following Sean Murphy’s solo shot, the sun demanded it make an impactful, cameo appearance. Victor Reyes was cast as the victim, unable to locate Olson’s fly ball as it landed harmlessly 20 feet to his right. That set the A’s up with the potential game-winning run at second base 6with one out. After Matt Chapman struck out, and Murphy walked, Moreland entered as a pinch-hitter batting lefty against left-handed reliever Gregory Soto.

And Moreland made it work.

The A’s were hoping to continue their mastery of AL Central teams on Monday, but the Twins are dealing with COVID issues on multiple fronts and they were shutdown Saturday and Sunday against the Angels, then not cleared for Monday in Oakland. The hope is the Twins’ positive tests will cease and they can resume play with a Twins-A’s doubleheader on Tuesday.

The A’s hope so: they’ve won 69 of 89 since June 2017 against the Twins, Tigers, White Sox, Indians and Royals.

That’s Amaury’s News and Commentary podcast: A’s getting some hitting production Barreto, Olson, Krizan and Allen

photo from sfchronicle.com: Franklin Barreto hit three doubles on Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers in pre season action for the Oakland A’s

On That’s Amaury’s podcast:

#1 Amaury talk about A’s second baseman Franklin Barreto he doubled in three at bats, scored two runs and got an RBI on Sunday.

#2 A’s first baseman Matt Olson with bases loaded went 0-2 against Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader. Olson worked the count to 3-2 and fouled out, “it’s just fun for the fans to watch that” said A’s manager Bob Melvin

#3 The A’s Jason Krizan hit a two run home run in the eight inning Sunday. Krizan came from the Mets minor league rule 5 draft.

#4 Vismel Machin is another rule 5 draftee who tried to make it to the A’s but will be going back to his former club after Melvin said that Machin was “further down the pecking order”

#5 The A’s Austin Allen hit two doubles and got three RBIs on Sunday. Austin was replacing catcher Jonah Helm who was 0-2 for the game.

Amaury Pi Gonzalez can be heard on KIQI 1010 Spanish radio home of the Oakland A’s Friday, Saturday and Sundays for A’s home games and for News and Commentary each week at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

 

That’s Amaury’s News and Commentary podcast: Chapman and Olson win Gold Gloves; First dual winners for A’s since the ’80s

Photo credit: sfexaminer.com

On Amaury’s News and Commentary podcast:

#1 Oakland A’s third baseman Matt Chapman received the Gold Glove Award with first baseman Matt Olson. Chapman had a .981. fielding percentage and Olson had .993.

#2 Chapman saved 17 runs that led MLB third basemen in defense in runs saved.

#3 Olson saved 13 runs leading all first basemen in the show in defense.

#4 It’s the first time since 1980 and 1981 that the A’s had two players win the Gold Glove in back to back years. Who were they? Centerfielder Dwayne Murphy and pitcher Mike Norris.

#5 The A’s have developed some great defensive players who got nominated for Gold Gloves — infielder Marcus Semien and left fielder Robbie Grossman.

Amaury Pi Gonzalez is the Spanish radio voice for Oakland A’s baseball on KIQI 1010 San Francisco and listen to Amaury’s podcasts each Tuesday at http://www.sportsradioservice.com